The following annotated bibliography focuses on school principal leadership and its relationship to student performance and other outcomes.
Principal leadership refers to actions taken by school principals. The field of school leadership studies is very diverse, but we chose to begin our work by documenting leadership relationships to student learning because this topic is of high interest to Illinois educators. Leadership research is also diverse in terms of its methodology, and researchers are continually developing better methods to gauge leadership impact. When selecting studies for inclusion in this first set, we sought to include seminal studies, which are widely accepted and used in the field, and methodologically rigorous studies, which, after peer or other types of review, are considered to be empirically strong regardless of the research methodology.
Future research reviews will document the relationship between principals and other school-level factors such as teacher retention, school culture, and instructional quality. Reviews may also address the relationship between shared leadership models or other definitions of leadership (e.g., transformational leadership) and outcomes.
Andrews, R., & Soder, R. (1987). Principal leadership and student achievement. Educational Leadership, 44, 9–11.
This study followed 33 elementary schools in Seattle during a 2-year period between 1982 and 1984. The study examined the relationship between teachers' perceptions of principals' leadership and students' reading and mathematics scores on the California Achievement Test. Researchers developed a survey instrument that gathered teachers' perceptions of their principals as a resource provider, instructional resource, communicator, and visible presence. Based on the survey results, each principal in the study was divided into one of three groups based on their staff's perceptions of their instructional leadership: strong leaders (highest-scoring principals, n = 11), average leaders (middle-scoring principals, n = 11), and weak leaders (lower-scoring principals, n = 11).
The study found that principals perceived by their staff as strong instructional leaders were associated with statistically significant gains in students' reading and mathematics scores that were higher than those of students with average or weak leaders. Moreover, the findings varied by the ethnicity and free-lunch status of students. For black and free-lunch students, the association between strong leaders and higher achievement gains were stronger and more consistent. The authors concluded that the study findings, while preliminary considering the sample size, geographic limitations, and short-time period, suggest that teachers' perceptions of school leaders as instructional resources have crucial implications for reading and mathematics achievement, especially among low-achieving students.
Branch, G. F., Hanushek, E. A. and Rivkin, S. G. (2012). Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The case of school principals. Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved on June 24, 2013, from http://www.caldercenter.org/upload/Hanushek_Estimating-the-Effect-of-Leaders.pdf
This study examined variations in principal effectiveness defined in terms of the principal's effect over time on a school's value-added scores, which were examined both within school and within grade level, as well by school poverty level. In addition, the study examined the channels through which the principal influenced school quality, specifically, through improving teacher quality. The researchers relied on administrative data collected as part of the University of Texas at Dallas Texas Schools Project and value-added data calculated using the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (administered in Grades 3–8). The examination covered the period between 1995 and 2001 and included a sample of 7,420 principals.
Study results revealed that low-income schools were more likely to have a first-year principal, but less likely to have principals who had served the school at least 6 years. Moreover, higher-poverty schools were associated with wider variations in principal effectiveness. The authors hypothesized that a principal's skill is more important in the most challenging schools. In addition, the authors found that the most effective principals were associated with higher teacher turnover in the grades within their schools that exhibit lower value-added scores. This finding is most noteworthy in higher-poverty schools, which is a further reflection of the higher variance in principal effectiveness among these schools. Finally, the study also identified mobility trends related to principal effectiveness. The most and least effective principals are the administrators most likely to leave schools—a pattern that is particularly commonplace in high-poverty schools. In addition, a significant portion of ineffective principals in high-poverty schools tend to move on to principal positions in other schools and districts rather than exiting the system entirely.
Brewer, D. J. (1993). Principals and student outcomes: Evidence from U.S. high schools. Economics of Education Review 12(4), 281–292.
This study examined the effect of high school principals on student learning by examining data taken from a subsample of 2,070 U.S. public school students included in the High School and Beyond (HSB) survey, a national longitudinal study conducted between 1980 and 1986. The study involved administering a series of cognitive tests on verbal and quantitative ability when students were sophomores and seniors. Brewer combined this data with information on the students' principals taken from the Administrator and Teacher Survey, which was collected as part of the HSB study and used multivariate regression to examine the effects of a range of variables on students' changes in test scores over the 6-year period.
The analysis found that principals influence student test score gains, and this impact is associated with a principal's control over the selection and motivation of teachers. Specifically, principals who were able to replace a higher percentage of teachers over the 6-year period and who also set high academic goals were associated with higher gains in student achievement.
Fuller, E., Young, M., & Baker, B. D. (2010). Do principal preparation programs influence student achievement through the building of teacher-team qualifications by the principal? An exploratory analysis. Education Administration Quarterly, 47(1), 173–216.
This study was an exploratory examination of the links between a principal's preparation program and changes in the qualifications of teacher teams within a school and student achievement. Researchers used seven extracts of principal, school, and teacher data from the Texas Education Agency to create a merged data set that linked individual principals with school-level data on teachers and students between 2003 and 2008. To isolate the effects of preparation programs, the study focused only on beginning principals, and the sample included 806 elementary schools in Texas.
The study found that the percentage of core course teachers in a school who were fully certified has a demonstrable influence on student achievement (e.g., a rise or fall of the pool of fully certified teachers is associated with a similar rise or fall of student achievement scores). Moreover, after controlling for a range of individual principal characteristics and school-level differences, the researchers found that principal preparation programs designated as being housed at research or doctoral institutions were consistently associated with a principal's influence on the quality of teachers in a school. Principals from programs housed at colleges or universities designated as research or doctoral institutions (1994 Carnegie classification system) were associated with a statistically significant rise in the percentage of core course teachers in the school who were fully certified. The authors concluded that the data and exploratory analysis suggest principals from these types of programs demonstrate higher effectiveness at improving the overall qualification of the pool of teachers in a school.
Gates, S. M., Ringel, J. S., Santibañez, L., Guarino, C., Ghosh-Dastidar, B., & Brown, A. (2006). Mobility and turnover among school principals. Economics of Education Review 25(3), 289–302.
This study examined trends in principal mobility and turnover in Illinois and North Carolina between the 1987–88 school year and the 2000–01 school year. Researchers found that during this period, the proportion of principals in Illinois and North Carolina who were women increased across all grade levels. In addition, the proportion of principals who were members of a racial or ethnic minority group increased; gains in this area, however, were somewhat stronger in Illinois than North Carolina during this time period.
Principal mobility in both states exhibited significant stability, with only 14 percent of Illinois school principals and 17 percent of North Carolina principals dropping out of the system, switching schools, or leaving the principalship. The majority of turnover was attributable to principals switching schools rather than leaving the system. Variations in turnover rates, however, were associated with certain school characteristics. Larger schools experienced lower turnover rates, which the authors hypothesized were associated with the higher salaries that principals in larger schools tend to receive. Schools with higher proportions of minority students were more likely to experience higher rates of turnover; principals at these schools were more likely to change schools or positions within the system. In Illinois, the study found that principals identifying as the same race as the largest racial group in a school were less likely to switch schools or leave the principalship. The study also found that although principals who were women were slightly more likely to drop out of the system or change positions, female principals at retirement age or older were more likely to remain in their principalship compared to male principals of the same age.
Hallinger, P., Bickman, L., & Davis, K. (1996). School context, principal leadership, and student reading achievement. Elementary School Journal, 96(5), 527–549.
This study examined the influence of school principals on school effectiveness by analyzing school-level data from 87 elementary schools in Tennessee between 1983 and 1985. Specifically, researchers collected data (including perception data and test scores) as part of the Tennessee School Improvement Incentives Project. The data included information on school-level contextual factors (e.g., student population, parental involvement, and socioeconomic status), personal characteristics of the principals, measures of principal leadership, school organization, and student achievement. Researchers used a form of statistical analysis called structural modeling to test three different hypothesized models of the ways a principal influences school effectiveness.
Structural modeling enabled the researchers to examine the factors that influenced principal leadership and the ways in which principals influenced school effectiveness. Study results indicated that a principal's approach to instructional leadership was influenced by several contextual and individual factors that were consistent with earlier studies. Specifically, principals who were perceived by teachers to be active instructional leaders were associated with schools at which parental involvement was higher and where students had a higher socioeconomic status (SES). Moreover, both of these factors (higher parental involvement and SES) were associated with higher teacher expectations for student learning. Both findings emphasize the importance of community contexts in shaping instructional leadership. Second, female principals were perceived as being more active instructional leaders compared with male principals; this finding, however, is somewhat less statistically robust. Next, as the authors predicted, the analysis demonstrated no direct effect of a principal's school leadership on student achievement results; rather, the final model demonstrated that a principal's leadership indirectly influenced learning.
The results demonstrate that a principal influences several aspects of a school's climate, which in turn influences a student's achievement scores in reading. Specifically, principals perceived as active instructional leaders are associated with a clear school mission, which in turn is associated with better opportunities for students to learn and higher teacher expectations for student learning, which, as noted earlier, is linked to higher student achievement scores. Finally, the authors noted that although no relationship was found between the organization of instruction and student achievement, the measure of instructional organization in the study called into question the validity of the study's results related to this particular variable.
Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. (1998). Exploring the principal's contribution to school effectiveness: 1980–1995. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 9(2), 157–191.
Based on a review of 40 research studies published between 1980 and 1995, Hallenger and Heck examined whether principal leadership had meaningful impacts on school effectiveness and student achievement. The article described the evolution of different theoretical models predicting leadership impacts and noted the increasing complexity and sophistication of the analytical models and research methods employed in the studies.
Specifically, researchers have increasingly moved away from models predicting a direct link between principal leadership and student outcomes to "mediated-effects" and "reciprocal effects" models that predict principal leadership practice will influence intervening factors such as school goals and mission, teacher quality, and school climate, which, each in turn, influence student achievement. This represents a shift toward a more nuanced research agenda focused on identifying the "paths" by which a principal's practices achieve a wider impact, such as by setting the school's mission and vision, shaping the school structure and organizational culture, and leveraging social networks and staff. The authors concluded that the body of reviewed research supported the view that principals have meaningful influence.
Institute for Educational Leadership. (2000). Leadership for student learning: Reinventing the principalship. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://achievehartford.org/upload/files/IEL - Leadership for Student Learning.pdf
This is a report by the Task Force on Principalship—a nine-member group that convened the Institute for Educational Leadership's (IEL) School Leadership for the 21st Century Initiative, which met during the spring and summer of 2000. The report summarized the importance of school leadership and the problems and threats cited by school principals, and suggested actions leaders can take to address the "principalship crisis." Specifically, the report summarizes research that suggested principals have a critical role in school, teacher, and student success; however, few principals are adequately prepared to fulfill this role, particularly as the role of the principalship expands and evolves to include a stronger focus on instructional leadership. In addition, in this document superintendents report a shortage of qualified, interested candidates for open principal positions.
Research studies predict that despite small gains in the gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of principals during the last decade, the expected rise in student enrollment combined with projected gaps in available, qualified candidates may lead to a dramatic shortage of principals overall, but particularly principals who reflect the rising diversity of the student body. Studies suggest that a range of factors ranging from low pay and prestige to rising hours and job complexity actively discourage staff who are qualified as administrators from seeking open positions.
To address the challenges of preparation, quality, recruitment, and retention that characterize a rising crisis in school leadership, the IEL Task Force on Principalship generated three broad recommendations: 1) Fill the pipeline with effective school leaders by improving recruitment and retention policies and preparation programs, and seek alternative pathways to principalship; 2) support the profession with a shift to a focus on leadership for student learning in both preparation and professional development, boost pay, and promote the growth of organizations focused on the profession; and 3) guarantee quality and results by evaluating principals through use of rigorous, fair approaches to accountability and developing better data-gathering systems that can help inform principal leadership. The report provides detailed strategies and action steps for each of these recommendations and includes examples of promising practices for each of the topic areas discussed.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (1999a). The relative effects of principal and teacher sources of leadership on student engagement with school. Educational Administration Quarterly, 35(Suppl.), 679–706.
This article, which focused on the effects of principal and teacher leadership on student engagement, pays particular attention to differences in school context and family educational culture. Although principal and teacher leadership are recognized as the two most dominant forms of leadership within schools, there is limited evidence on their relative effects.
Researchers collected survey responses from 1,762 teachers and 9,941 students in one large school district in Canada. The teacher survey instrument inquired about school conditions and the relative influence of principal and teacher leadership, and the student survey instrument asked students about engagement in school and family educational culture. Researchers found that principal leadership had a small but significant effect on student engagement, whereas teacher leadership had no significant effect on engagement. Additionally, effects of both principal and teacher leadership were significantly mediated by school conditions and moderated by family educational culture.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (1999b). Transformational school leadership effects: A replication. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 10(4), 451–479.
This article focuses on replicating earlier research on the effects of transformation leadership in schools, specifically focusing on organizational conditions and student engagement. Evidence supports transformational leadership as a means to develop the capacity and commitment of individuals and organizations when implementing restructuring initiatives. However, there is little evidence to demonstrate transformational leadership's effects on actual change and achieving the desired outcomes within an organization.
Researchers collected survey data on school conditions and student engagement from 1,818 teachers and 6,490 students from 94 elementary schools in a large district. Results from the study showed that leadership had a large effect on organizational conditions and a moderate but significant effect on student engagement.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2008). Linking leadership to student learning: The role of collective efficacy. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(4), 496–528.
This article focuses on the underlying factors that influence school leader efficacy, individual and collective, and the effects of leader efficacy on leader behavior, school and classroom conditions, and student learning. Research has shown that teachers' individual efficacy beliefs have a large effect on performance and student outcomes; however, very little is known about leadership efficacy and its antecedents.
Examining responses from 96 principals and 2,764 teachers to two separate surveys, as well as 3 years of mathematics and language student achievement data, researchers found that district leadership and district organization conditions had a strong effect on school leader efficacy. District leaders aligning and supporting working conditions (organizational redesign) had more of an effect on school leader efficacy than direction and inspiration (setting directions). Organizational conditions, particularly district focus on student learning and quality instruction, as well as district culture, were also found to have a larger effect on school leaders' collective efficacy as compared to their individual efficacy. There was also a moderate but significant effect of leader efficacy on classroom and school conditions, and leader efficacy also had a small effect on the proportion of students in schools reaching or exceeding state proficiency levels.
Leithwood, K., Mascall, B., & Strauss, T. (Eds.). (2009). Distributed leadership according to the evidence. New York: Routledge.
This book explores the concept of distributed leadership within schools as a promising approach to addressing the challenges faced by schools, particularly schools at which change is needed most. Exploring the best evidence on distributed leadership, the authors made a case for shared leadership within schools to leverage the expertise of all stakeholders. The book synthesizes evidence on the nature, causes, and effects; clarifies common misunderstandings; and compares different approaches to distributed leadership and how the effectiveness of these approaches may vary based on school context.
Leithwood, K., Seashore, L. K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning: A review of research for the Learning from Leadership Project. New York: The Wallace Foundation.
This article aims to identify the ways in which leadership matters, particularly its effects on student learning and the traits that make leaders effective. A previous lack of evidence on the importance of effective leadership for school improvement and effective leadership qualities has made it difficult to harness and support successful leadership practices that promote school reform.
By reviewing existing evidence on effective education leadership, the researchers made two important findings on the effect of leadership on student learning: 1) Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school, and 2) leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most. Additionally, researchers isolated three sets of practices that are at the core of successful leadership: 1) Setting directions–developing a shared understanding of the organization's purpose, activities, and goals among colleagues; 2) developing people–capacities and motivations of staff are directly influenced by experiences staff have with leadership; and 3) redesigning the organization–successful leaders develop their districts and schools as effective organizations that support and sustain the performance of administrators, teachers, and students.
Marks, H., & Printy, S. (2003). Principal leadership and school performance: An integration of transformational and instructional leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(3), 370–397.
Through two leadership concepts—instructional and transformational—this article examined the potential for collaboration between principals and teachers on instructional matters to enhance the quality of teaching and student performance. According to these authors, instructional leadership fell short of the ideal when its hierarchical nature did not work with the democratic and participative organization of schools, and principals were viewed as underprepared to act as instructional leaders. Transformational leadership, however, lacked an explicit focus on curriculum and instruction. The study explored how these concepts are complementary, and, if operated in tandem, may prove successful.
Using hierarchical linear modeling, researchers examined data from 24 restructured schools across the nation—8 elementary, 8 middle, and 8 high schools. Results concluded that transformational leadership is a necessary but insufficient condition for instructional leadership; however, the integration of transformational and shared instructional leadership had a substantial effect on the quality of instruction and student achievement.
Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
This book looked at the leadership practices that affect student achievement. Through a meta-analysis of 69 studies conducted since 1970 and a survey of 650 building principals, the authors extract a list of 21 research-based leadership competencies that have had a significant effect on student achievement and detail how each of the competencies correlates to student achievement gains and the behaviors associated with those competencies. The book looks at the differences between first-order and second-order change, how it relates to the leadership competencies, and how to focus a leader's work as it relates to student achievement. This resource also compares comprehensive school reform models and provides actions and a five-step plan for forming a site-specific approach to improve student achievement.
Murphy, J., Elliott, S., Goldring, E., & Porter, A. (2006). Learning-centered leadership: A conceptual foundation. New York: The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.wallacefoundation.org/wallace/learning.pdf
This report presents a learning-centered leadership framework that was developed to inform the creation of an evaluation system for school leaders and school leadership teams, the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education. Through an extensive literature review, the report examines the research base using the eight dimensions that form the foundation for the learning-centered leadership framework: vision for learning, instructional program, curricular program, assessment program, communities of learning, resource acquisition and use, organizational culture, and social advocacy. The authors conclude that not all leadership is equal and that leadership can be improved by improving the education and preparation of leaders, changing governance structures and systems, and assessing learning-centered leadership.
Murphy, J., & Hallinger, P. (1988). Characteristics of instructionally effective school districts. Journal of Educational Research, 81(3), 175–181.
The article explores the organizational structures of instructionally effective school districts (IESD) to see what effect, if any, those structure have on important student outcomes. Specifically, the researchers looked at the factors and processes that characterize IESD, the role of the superintendent in promoting IESD, and the methods used by district offices to coordinate and control the work activities of school-level personnel, especially principals.
The researchers looked at 12 IESDs in California that were identified based on high levels of student achievement on standardized tests, controlling for socioeconomic status, previous achievement, and language proficiency. Interviews with district superintendents and document review were conducted, resulting in the findings that IESDs had a higher-than-anticipated degree of coordination between district, school, and classroom in the areas of curriculum and instruction, and superintendents were actively engaged in technical core operations.
Orr, M. T., & Orphanos, S. (2011). How graduate-level preparation influences the effectiveness of school leaders: A comparison of the outcomes of exemplary and conventional leadership preparation programs for principals. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47, 18–70.
This article examined how exemplary leadership preparation influences what principals learn about leadership, how principals implement effective leadership practices, how these practices influence school improvement and learning climate, how effective leadership practice implementation frequency relates to the strength of district support and the extent of school problems and student poverty, and the contribution of exemplary leadership preparation to variations in school improvement progress and school effectiveness climate.
Researchers compared survey data from 65 principals who had graduated from one of four selected exemplary leadership preparation programs to a national sample of 111 principals. The study found that completing an exemplary leadership preparation program was significantly associated with learning about and using effective leadership practices, and frequent use of these practices was positively associated with school improvement progress and school effectiveness climate.
Spillane, J., Halverson, R., & Diamond, J. (2004). Towards a theory of school leadership practice: A distributed perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies 36(1), 3–34.
The article argues that leadership practice is rooted in the interactions of school leaders, followers, and the situation of leaders' practice. Evidence has shown that a shared vision and norm for instruction and collaboration and a sense of collective responsibility for students' academic success are key to improving teacher practice, and that principal leadership is fundamental to creating these conditions and, therefore, has an effect on student learning. Despite this evidence, little attention has been given to the
why of leadership practice.
The authors provided a distributed leadership framework for studying leadership practice through the lens of activity theory and theories of distributed cognition. The framework makes the case that an understanding of the ways in which leadership practice is distributed across leaders, followers, and the material and symbolic artifacts is essential to leadership practice overall, and that the situation of leaders' practice is a defining element of that practice.
Stronge, J. H., Richard, H. B., & Catano, N. (2008). Qualities of effective principals. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
This book explores and describes core leadership factors that are critical to student learning. The book aims to serve as a resource for principals by helping them to develop and refine their skills in these core leadership factors, including sustained school leadership; creating an effective school climate for learning; selecting, supporting, and retaining high-quality teachers and staff; assessing instructional high quality; building a foundation for organizational management; creating, maintaining, and strengthening community relationships; making contributions to the professional educational community; and defining principals' critical role in student achievement.