What role do principals play in improving teaching and student achievement?

A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US has found that an intensive approach to helping principals (headteachers) improve their leadership practices did not improve pupil achievement or change principal practices as intended.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a professional development (PD) programme for elementary (primary) school principals that focused on helping them to conduct structured observations of teachers’ classroom teaching and provide targeted feedback. It provided nearly 200 hours of PD over two years, half of it through individualised coaching. One hundred schools from eight districts in five US states took part in the study. Within each district, schools with similar characteristics were paired together, and within each pair, one school was randomly assigned to participate in the programme for two years while the other did not.

To measure the effects on pupil achievement, the researchers compared pupil test scores in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6) for both years of programme implementation plus one additional school year. They found that, on average, pupils had similar achievement in English or maths whether they were in schools that received the principal PD programme or not.

The results of the study also found that although the programme was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. In fact, teachers whose principals received the PD reported receiving less frequent teaching support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the PD.

Source: The effects of a principal professional development program focused on instructional leadership (October 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education

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