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Better principals beget better students: New OISE study says leadership affects learning


By Kate Brand

July 26, 2010

A new report by OISE professors Kenneth Leithwood, Stephen Anderson, Blair Mascall and researchers at the University of Minnesota shows student achievement is tied to the actions of principals. 

The report, Learning from Leadership, has broad implications for understanding how leadership affects learning across the United States. The study demonstrates a strong, positive link between educational leaders — particularly principals — and student learning outcomes and provides information for policymakers and educational leaders to help students succeed.
Researchers of the $3.5 million, six-year study, funded by The Wallace Foundation,  conducted more than 1,000 interviews, surveyed more than 8,000 teachers and administrators, and observed activity in more than 350 classrooms at all grade levels in school districts across nine states.
“Among many other findings, I anticipate readers will be especially interested in our findings about successful leadership practices, the importance of distributing those practices in coordinated ways, and the key contribution of leader efficacy in accounting for district success," said Leithwood. 
Key findings of the report:

  • Student achievement is higher in schools where principals share leadership with teachers and the community; principals play a key role in encouraging others to join.
  • Higher-performing schools generally ask for more input and engagement from a wider variety of stakeholders.
  • District support for shared leadership fosters the development of professional communities. Where teachers feel attached to a professional community, they are more likely to use instructional practices that are linked to improved student learning.
  • In districts where levels of student learning are high, district leaders are more likely to emphasize goals and initiatives that reach beyond minimum state expectations for student performance.

 Major challenges to effective school leadership include:

  • The weak evidence of effective district support for principals’ professional development and of regular contact between most principals and their district office focused on goals for improvement in teaching and learning. District leadership also needs to increase support for principals to use data-driven decision making.
  • The direct negative effect of principal turnover on student achievement due to disruptions in cooperation and shared leadership with teachers
  • A lack of real and sustained leadership directed to improve instruction in high schools
  • The absence of comprehensive approaches to education reform in most states