Principal Talent Management According to the Evidence: A Review of the Literature

In recognition of the importance of effective school leadership, many states and districts have implemented policies and programs that aim to improve their capacity to attract and retain great principals. To be successful, these efforts require a comprehensive, systematic approach to principal talent management (PTM) that encompasses the entire continuum of a principal’s career: preparation, recruitment and selection, professional learning, performance evaluation, and compensation and incentives.

This literature review aims to provide district leaders with an understanding of the research and best evidence regarding the components of effective PTM systems. Based on the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards as the criteria for identifying studies with rigorous research designs and  evidence of causal relationships, our review focuses on two key outcomes of PTM systems and components: the extent to which certain policies and practices lead to improved student achievement and principal retention.

Our review also highlights gaps in the existing research and offers  recommendations for district leaders, policymakers, education-focused researchers, and funders of education leadership research, policy, and practice.

Key Findings

  • While there is clear evidence that principals play a critical role in improving student achievement, PTM research is still emerging. Thus, there is a need for more rigorous studies of PTM systems especially given the importance of principal effectiveness to student achievement. There is also a need for more rigorous studies of the individual PTM components—preparation, recruitment and selection, professional learning, performance evaluation, compensation and incentives, and working environment—to inform PTM systems building efforts.
  • Only four dimensions of PTM—working environment, preparation, professional learning, and compensation and incentives—featured at least one study eligible for review.
  • Six studies of PTM components met WWC criteria with or without reservations. Of these six studies, two (one in the area of professional learning and one in the area of compensation) showed a positive impact on student achievement.