​​​​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.

​​​​Equity-Centered Pipeline Initiative

Eight Districts to Develop Principal Pipelines for Equity-Centered Leaders
Building on strong evidence that comprehensive, aligned principal pipelines can be a feasible, affordable and effective way to improve student achievement districtwide, eight large school districts around the country will explore how to build pipelines that can produce school leaders capable of advancing their own district’s vision of equity. Through a series of independent research studies, the work of the eight districts is expected to generate useful insights for other districts.

What equity means in any given district depends on its history and context. So each district in the Equity-Centered Pipeline Initiative will form a District Partnership Team with local community organizations, two university leader-preparation programs, and the state education agency to develop its own, local definition of equity and define what an equity-centered leader needs to know and be able to do.

Each District Partnership Team will then design a comprehensive, aligned equity-centered pipeline that translates each district’s vision into reality, provide mentoring and training for current principals and assistant principals, and engage in continuous improvement.

Selected through a rigorous, competitive process, each district has at least five high-needs high schools and more than 48,000 students, and has provided evidence of strong support for the effort from local stakeholders, university partners, and the relevant state education agency. Assuming they are successfully renewed each year, each District Partnership Team will receive grants totaling $8.2 million over five years, with the total cost of the initiative estimated at $102 million. The eight participating District Partnership Teams include:

  • Baltimore City Public Schools, Maryland
    • With local groups, Morgan State University, Towson University, and the Maryland State Department of Education
  • Columbus City, Ohio
    • With local groups, Ashland University, Ohio State University, and the Ohio Department of Education
  • District of Columbia Public Schools, District of Columbia
    • With ​local groups, Howard University, George Washington University
  • Fresno Unified School District, California
    • With local groups, San Diego State University, National University, and the California Department of Education
  • Jefferson County School District, Kentucky
    • With local groups, Spalding University, University of Louisville, and the Kentucky Department of Education
  • Portland Public Schools, Oregon
    • With local groups, Portland State University, Lewis and Clark College, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, and the Oregon Department of Education.
  • San Antonio Independent School District, Texas
    • With local groups, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at San Antonio, and the Texas Education Agency
  • Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, North Carolina
    • With local groups, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Appalachian State University, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

The seven parts of comprehensive, aligned principal pipelines include: leadership standards; principal preparation programs; recruitment, hiring and placement; support and evaluation; a principal supervisor role; leader tracking; and systems to sustain the work.

Each district will determine its own technical assistance needs and contract for those from its grant. Additionally, support will be provided to all districts on community engagement (National Urban League); school board engagement (Council of the Great City Schools); review of alignment of current district leadership policies and practices with the definition developed by each district (The Leadership Academy and Bank Street College of Education); and development of leader tracking systems. Each District Partnership Team, researchers and technical assistance providers will participate in four learning community meetings managed by Learning Forward to share what they are learning and learn from colleagues.

Each university participating as a District Partnership Team member will work with a partner provider that has successfully redesigned its program to be responsive to the on-the-job realities of the principal’s job and the needs of the district.  These programs are: Albany State University (GA); Florida Atlantic University (FL); North Carolina State University (NC); San Diego State University (CA); Virginia State University (VA); University of Connecticut (CT);  University of Denver (CO); University of Illinois at Chicago (IL); and Western Kentucky University (KY).

You can read an Oct. 14, 2021, story about the initiative in Education Week. ​

The work of the District Partnership Teams builds on strong evidence about the importance of principals and the benefits of comprehensive, aligned pipelines.

A systematic synthesis of 20 years of research on principals found that an effective principal has a positive impact on student achievement comparable to that of an effective teacher, but across an entire school. And a separate study of six large districts found that comprehensive, aligned principal pipelines developed in large, high-needs districts led to outperformance by students in reading and math compared to similar schools, as well as improved principal retention. 

The initiative aims to help fill a gap in knowledge about how districts can prepare and support principals capable of bringing the district’s own vision of equity to fruition. A 2020 survey of 175 large districts suggested field interest in this question; it found that less than half were satisfied with their district’s pool of principal candidates, with a lack of diversity being the most common shortcoming noted by respondents, and a majority wanting to strengthen their own principal pipeline.

Throughout the initiative, a series of in-depth, independent studies will document how each district’s culture, history, structure and leadership shape its approach to equity; key actions, challenges, opportunities and changes that result from the effort; and how equity-centered leadership can be measured. Researchers will also explore the relationship between equity-centered leadership and student benefits to inform the design of a potential effects study that might separately be undertaken in the future. Studies include:

  • A three-year study of the districts’ central office led by University of Texas at Austin researchers with researchers from the University of Iowa, University of Houston and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona;
  • A six-year implementation study that includes the development of a tool to measure equity-centered leadership led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, along with researchers from UCLA, Teachers College, American Institutes of Research and WestEd​;
  • And a five-year study of research use and research-practice partnerships led by University of Colorado Boulder researchers.​


 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.