The Wallace Foundation Commissions Two Multi-Year Research Studies on Education Leadership

July 23, 2004

For Immediate Release

The Wallace Foundation Commissions Two Multi-Year Research Studies on Education Leadership

University of Minnesota and University of Toronto researchers will conduct largest ever study that examines how leadership improves learning

Stanford University and The Finance Project will study how professional development programs can increase the effectiveness of school principals

New York, NY, July 23, 2004 – Despite a widespread belief that excellent schools require effective leadership, the actual influence of leadership on student learning – and how best to train those leaders – is not well understood.  The Wallace Foundation has therefore commissioned two distinct but interrelated studies that will provide answers to these two crucial questions. 

In a five-year, $3,500,000 study, lead researchers Kyla Wahlstrom of the University of Minnesota and Kenneth Leithwood of the University of Toronto will look at how leaders’ actions improve learning.  In a related three-year, $1,245,000 study, Linda Darling-Hammond and Debra Meyerson of Stanford University, along with The Finance Project in Washington, D.C., will assess how training and ongoing education programs can strengthen principals’ effectiveness.

“We commissioned these two research efforts to provide much-needed evidence of how leadership can make a difference in improving student achievement and, just as importantly, to prompt clearer understanding among policymakers and practitioners about how best to prepare effective leaders of learning,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation.   

 “This research, along with the work we are funding in 15 states and 12 districts, will provide clearer evidence of the connection between leadership and student achievement and will also shed light on the critical importance of creating the conditions to enable those leaders to succeed,” added Richard Laine, Wallace’s director of education.  
How Leadership Improves Learning
The Minnesota-Toronto national study will create a clearer picture of how leadership and student achievement connects at all levels of the education system, from state-level policymaking to classroom practice.  The evidence will demonstrate not only how district and school leaders can most effectively drive gains in student learning, but in what context or under what conditions their practices can have the greatest impact.

The researchers have begun the project with a wide-ranging review of existing evidence about what is known and what is still unclear about how leadership contributes to student learning.  The resulting publication, Successful Education Leadership, And How It Influences Student Learning, will be available later this year on The Wallace Foundation’s website,

“This five-year, field-based leadership study is the largest of its kind in the world,” said Kenneth Leithwood, lead researcher at the University of Toronto.  “Starting from an extensive review of literature, this research project will provide a much more definitive picture of what successful leaders do and a much richer understanding of how such leadership at the state, district and school levels actually work than is presently available.  Results will serve as a foundation for significant improvements to the quality of education leadership across the country.”

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, part of the College of Education and Human Development, works on education issues across the nation.  Lead researchers at Minnesota are: Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, and Karen Seashore Louis, faculty member in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration; and from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education: Kenneth Leithwood, professor of Educational Leadership and Policy and associate dean of Research, and associate professor Stephen Anderson.

How Training Can Increase Leaders’ Effectiveness
The Stanford-Finance Project study will assess professional development programs for principals and the organizational and funding supports and constraints on these programs.  

 “Research has made it clear that principals who are strong instructional leaders are key to school success,” said project leader Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of Education, Stanford University.  “But there is much less known about how to prepare such capable leaders who can support excellent teaching and learning while juggling all the complex demands of school life.  The study will shed light on effective programs for preparing principals who can create the schools we need, rather than just administering the schools we have.”

The study is intended to yield broad lessons on how to improve the professional development and training of education leaders nationally and how to fund it effectively and efficiently.  Stanford will conduct field work in a selection of principal pre-service and in-service professional development programs identified as effective in preparing leaders to propel school-wide instructional improvement. They will interview and survey key decisionmakers, trainers and professors in professional development programs, as well as the recipients of the training, to assess the most promising practices for leadership training.  In collaboration with Stanford, The Finance Project will gather and analyze state- and district-level financial and policy data concerning training practices. 

Stanford University School of Education is one of the premier education research institutions in the country.  Along with Professor Darling-Hammond, the research team includes Debra Meyerson, associate professor of Education in Stanford’s School of Education and (by courtesy) Organizational Behavior in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.  The financing portion of the study will be led by Katherine Neville, Program Manager at The Finance Project, a Washington-based, nonprofit research organization that helps policymakers and community leaders improve policies, programs and financing strategies.


The Wallace Foundation, an independent national foundation, supports and shares effective ideas and practices that help institutions expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its current goals are to: strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement; improve after-school learning opportunities; and expand participation in arts and culture. For more information on the Foundation, please visit

THE WALLACE FOUNDATION: Jessica Schwartz, Senior Communications Officer, 212-251-9711;
THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA AND UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO: Peggy Rader, Director of Communications, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota, 612-626-8782;
STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Mo-Yun Lei Fong, Director, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, 650-724-3362;