Studies point to principal training as ‘cost-effective’ reform

Often in reform efforts focused on teacher effectiveness, principals are overlooked. Two new studies examining the National Institute for School Leadership, a for-profit company that works in 19 states, point to the importance of school leaders. Researchers found statistically significant gains on test scores at hundreds of schools  in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts with principals trained by the institute.

These are not the first studies to reach the conclusion that leadership matters. A 2009 study done by New Leaders for New Schools found that principal effectiveness accounted for 25 percent of student gains. Teacher effectiveness, by comparison, accounted for 33 percent. And school reformers–both in traditional public schools and charters–have been clamoring for better leadership development for years.

These new studies, conducted by Old Dominion and Johns Hopkins Universities, provide a new argument for the training programs: They can be cost-effective.

The National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) charges districts or states $15,750 to prepare in-district trainers, who then train aspiring principals and veteran school leaders, with the institute’s support. Fees for a principal to undergo the training range from $2,500 to $5,250, depending on the number of participants in the 12- to 15-month program.

In Pennsylvania–where schools with NISL-trained principals beat their peers by almost 10 percentage points on state tests–the average cost per principal was $4,000, or $117 per student.

The company is buying new advertisements  “to bring home that point,” said President and CEO Bob Hughes. “You can get … effects for very little money by concentrating on the leadership.”

In the Massachusetts study, students in 38 schools that had a principal who went through the leadership training program in 2007 and remained at the school through 2010 saw gains that were “quite large” compared to other school-reform efforts. On average, students gained the equivalent of an extra month of learning.

“Out of all the professional development funding that is spent, only about 1 percent relates to the principal or the leadership of the school,” Hughes said. “Almost all of it is focused on the teaching … but we need to widen that.”

The researchers concluded in the Massachusetts study that it may be more practical to train principals at struggling schools instead of removing them, a main strategy under Obama administration-led reforms.

The federal government’s School Improvement Grants, aimed at  the bottom 5 percent of schools nationwide, come with four possible plans a failing school can adopt, but all require that the principal be fired if he or she has been in the position for more than two years. The requirement has led some schools across the country to turn the money down.

But even for those schools that took the money and fired their principal, Hughes sees his group as having an important role in working with their replacements. “We believe that just the sheer numbers mean that most of the [hires] will be coming from the” same district, he said. “And those are the ones we really want to focus on.”

POSTED BY ON October 20, 2011

Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Post a Comment

Marilyn Zimmann

Well, finally we’re getting somewhere! Principals are crucial to success in the classroom! Teachers need to be, and want to be accountable. But, the principal who reads lesson plans and can respond and reflect appropriately to the teacher’s plans and activities, will effect success in the classroom. I’m happy to read that research validates my long-held position that principals are an important key to good learning.

Dale Mann

Since you’re interested in training administrators, the US Dept of Ed has put $5.2 million into creating the world’s first virtual school for that purpose. It’s a next generation, immersive, interactive simulation of a year-in-the-life of a school principal.

Let me know if I can help.
Dale Mann, Professor Emeritus, Teachers College, Columbia University…
804 798 8700

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Diane Ravitch

Nothing like asking those who are in the business to let you know whether they have been successful. Answers are predictable.

Dorothy Martin

I very seldom see mentioned the need to teach administrators the art of working with human beings. Stern looks, threatening tones, and a reluctance to guide young and struggling teachers do nothing to advance learning.

Vicky Dill

Often ignored, I think, is the design of the principal internship, a centerpiece of the principal’s preparation. Getting the internship right is as surely the holy grail of principal preparation just as much as it is for teacher preparation internships. Do principals know how to analyze data? Can they inspire parent involvement? Can they scrutinize their own school’s policy and see if it is practice? Can they promote relationship-building and do they have a passion for students who are in poverty? These and other questions all principals must answer should be the main course of the principal’s internship — a feast that can adequately prepare or screen out principals who make or break a school’s future.

Dr. Ruth C. Ceglia

Principal training is very important especially in teaching principals in how to work and deal with people. Those who cannot do that will see problems in their schools and solving those problem will take a long time.

Veronica Bacigalupo

Effective leadership from principals ensures student success. Principals exercise the most influence on a campus. They can motivate other educational leaders on the campus to create a warm and caring culture where everyone feels safe, welcome, and inspired. Teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn in an atmosphere that suffocates creativity and critical thinking. Principals cultivate an environment that permits everyone to flourish to his or her greatest potential. Thank you for your post.

James Wilson, Ed.D

The improvement of training of principals is the right thing to do. However, it is right, not because of test scores, but because we know better leadership makes for better education. This exclusive focus on test scores misses the far more important points of teaching and learning.

Keith Wagner

We all agree better principals create better school. When teachers and principals function as a cooperative team and not antagonistic combatants the children benefit. However I have an observation that is never spoken. In my 25 + years of teaching I have had dealings with many Principals both in my schools and in other capacities. The better principals, at least in my experience all have a common denominator as does the poorer ones. The better Principals were the ones who were veteran teachers first (I mean 10+ years in a class room) The principals that seemed to be constantly cutting off their staff and undermining them at all times were the one who had met the minimum of 3 years of classroom experience before jumping to administartion. I have no idea if research has ever been done to see if this is a significant factor, but my years of experience says it is the most importat factor.

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