Developing Leaders: The Importance—and the Challenges—of Evaluating Principal Preparation Programs

Eva Chiang, Catherine Jaynes, Anne Wicks Humphrey, and Abby Hoak-Morton, George W. Bush Institute
Matthew A. Clifford
Mariann Lemke
Dana Chambers

The role of today’s principal is changing, as is the principal workforce. The new generation of principals is younger with less teaching experience, and is more mobile, working more hours, and experiencing more job stress. Understanding how to better prepare new leaders for the role of principal is an urgent policy concern.

The George W. Bush Institute, in partnership with the AIR, has been evaluating the impact of five principal preparation programs in the United States on student outcomes.

Although the information produced by an impact evaluation may have limitations in what it can tell us about best practices in principal preparation program design, this information should be considered as one aspect of preparation program improvement and accountability. The study team lays out its recommendations in this policy paper.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Accurate and comprehensive data collection systems and analysis measures are needed to improve both principal preparation and principal performance.
  • States and districts should collect data that are more systematic on outcomes in addition to student standardized test scores.
  • Impact evaluations using student outcomes are necessary and critical for program improvement and district awareness.
  • A full evaluation of principal preparation programs should include multiple measures, and focusing on measures of individual principal effectiveness in addition to overall averages may be very informative.
  • More sustained research is needed on issues of developing and retaining our most effective principals.
  • Education leadership also can learn from the body of leadership research in other fields.
  • Districts and policymakers should consider how preparation fits into a continuum of development and supports along principals’ career pathways and work to improve all aspects of principal talent management.