School Leadership

School Leadership

Good school leadership is essential to turning around the nation’s failing schools, research has shown. For more than a decade, Wallace has been working with states and school districts to develop better ways to train, hire, support and evaluate principals and other key figures in schools.
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School Leadership Strategy Chart

The Problem

Despite years of education reform efforts, success in lifting student achievement remains elusive for many urban public schools. An often-missing ingredient is effective school leadership, cited in research as second only to teaching in school influences on student success.

How We Are Tackling It

Since 2000, Wallace has supported states and school districts to develop and test ways to improve leadership by principals and others key to better schools. Our efforts have included leadership improvement undertakings in 24 states and numerous urban school districts within them as well as the publication of 70-plus related research studies and other reports. This has taught us a great deal about school leadership. Our school leadership strategy building on this work is three-pronged:

  • Disseminate reports and other materials about what we have learned, so education decision-makers develop informed school leadership policies and procedures.
  • Create tools, such as how-to guides, that are based on what Wallace has found out and will help those in the trenches of school reform to work more effectively.
  • Support selected districts seeking to build a pipeline of excellent principals.

For this last prong, Wallace has launched an initiative to help six urban school districts develop a much larger corps of effective school principals and to determine whether this improves student achievement across the district, especially in the highest needs schools. The districts are: Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina; Denver; Gwinnett County (near Atlanta) in Georgia; Hillsborough County (near Tampa) in Florida; New York City; and Prince George's County (near Washington, D.C.) in Maryland. The districts will be working to fully develop the four essential, interlocking parts of a principal pipeline:

  1. Defining the job of the principal and assistant principal. Districts create clear, rigorous job requirements detailing what principals and assistant principals must know and do. These research-based standards underpin training, hiring and on-the-job evaluation and support.
  2. High-quality training for aspiring school leaders. "Pre-service" principal training programs, run by universities, nonprofits or districts, recruit and select only the people with the potential and desire to become effective principals and provide them with high-quality training.
  3. Selective hiring. Districts hire only well-trained candidates to be school leaders.
  4. Leader evaluation and on-the-job support. Districts regularly evaluate principals and provide professional development, including mentoring, that aims to help novice principals overcome weaknesses pinpointed in evaluations.

Some of the Research Informing Our Work

How Leadership Influences Student Learning and a large follow-up study, Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, by researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Toronto, explore the central role of leadership in improving student performance. Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs – Final Report, by researchers at Stanford University and The Finance Project, provides guidelines for district and state policymakers to help reinvent how principals are prepared for their jobs.

Our Grantees

Launched in 2000, this initiative seeks to improve the work of principals and other leaders in urban K-12 public school education through improved training and more supportive policies. Wallace funding of about $286 million has included support for: leadership projects in 24 states and numerous districts in them; some 70 research and other reports; communications efforts – among them, a documentary film, The Principal Story – to build awareness of the importance of leadership; and establishment of an education leadership doctoral program at Harvard.