​​​​The Problem

Despite years of education reform efforts, many urban public schools are falling short, unable to raise student achievement. An often-missing ingredient in improving public K-12 education is sound 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 helped states and school districts develop and test ways to improve leadership by principals and others in schools. We have supported leadership development efforts in 30 states, the District of Columbia and numerous urban school districts as well as the publication of more than 90 research studies and other reports and materials to advance the field as a whole.


 Principal Pipeline Initiative

In 2010, Wallace launched the Principal Pipeline Initiative, a six-year investment to help six urban school districts develop a much larger corps of effective school principals and to determine whether this boosts student achievement districtwide, especially in the highest needs schools. The districts are: Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina; Denver; Gwinnett County (near Atlanta) in Georgia; Hillsborough County (which includes Tampa) in Florida; New York City; and Prince George's County (near Washington, D.C.) in Maryland. The districts are 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 and match them to schools that are good fits.
  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 assessments.

The question the initiative seeks to answer is: “If an urban district and its principal training programs provide large numbers of talented, aspiring principals with the right training and on-the-job evaluation and support, will the result be a pipeline of principals who can improve teaching and student achievement district-wide, especially in schools with the greatest needs?”

 University Preparation Program Initiative

In March 2016, Wallace announced a new initiative to help universities improve how they train future principals, especially for the nation’s highest-need schools. The initiative will fund the redesign of up to six university programs, which will be asked to carry out their efforts in partnership with school districts. Such collaborations are viewed by many educators as key to high-quality training for aspiring principals.

The goal is to learn lessons about curricular and other improvements that can be adopted or adapted across the country by university-based principal preparation programs, the main training ground for school leaders in the United States.

Accordingly, the initiative includes research to find out more about topics including:

How universities can develop and run high-quality courses of study, ones that provide such recommended features as strong internships for program enrollees.
How universities can form effective partnerships with the school districts their graduates feed into.

Because states play a role in university preparation through their authority to approve programs and license principals, the initiative will also provide funding for the states in which the universities are located to review their principal preparation program policies and see if changes could encourage the development of effective programming statewide.

The university initiative comes on the heels of a Wallace report suggesting that school district leaders are largely dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs and many universities believe that their programs have room for improvement.

 Principal Supervisor Initiative

In 2014, the foundation launched the Principal Supervisor Initiative, which seeks to help 14 districts improve the effectiveness of the administrators who oversee principals so they can better work with principals to raise the quality of instruction in schools—and to generate lessons for the field as a whole. Six districts— Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), Fla.; Cleveland; Baltimore; Des Moines; Long Beach, Calif.; and Minneapolis—are working to:

Revise their principal supervisors’ job descriptions to focus on instruction, rather than compliance with rules and regulations;
Provide better training and support to supervisors;
Ensure that each supervisor oversees a manageable number of principals;
Build systems to ensure a steady stream of new supervisors as current supervisors leave; and
Reorganize central offices to support supervisors as they support principals.

The question the initiative seeks to answer is: “If principal supervisors shift from overseeing compliance to shaping principals’ instructional leadership capabilities and are given the right training, support and number of principals to supervise, will this improve the effectiveness of the principals with whom they work?”

The six districts will be part of an independent study to help answer whether and how boosting the supervisor post leads to more effective principals. Two other districts, Tulsa and Washington, D.C., have already made significant progress in reforming the role of their principal supervisors and have joined the initiative to inform the work of the others. The principal pipeline districts are also participating, having received funding for various principal supervisor projects.