Following the Leaders: An Analysis of Graduate Effectiveness from Five 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

Principals play a critical role in establishing a school’s climate and culture and in selecting and developing teachers, among other roles. Although there may be little disagreement that good principals make a difference, what is less clear is how to systematically prepare good principals.

In partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, AIR looked to connect information about program graduates to student outcomes. Specifically, this study evaluated the impact of five programs on student achievement.

Key Findings

  • Districts and preparation programs lacked high-quality data on principal characteristics and placements.
  • Selected program graduates had generally positive perceptions of program coursework and hands-on experiences, but they have mixed perceptions of district supports and ongoing supports from their programs.
  • We found little consistent evidence that student achievement in schools led by program graduates is better (or worse) than student achievement in similar schools led by graduates of other programs.
  • Significant variation occurred in effectiveness among principals from selected and other programs.

Taken together, these findings suggest that focusing on how to reduce variation in the performance of graduates through training, selection, or other means or how to systematize or better tailor supports may be the keys to success in preparing effective school leaders.