How Principal Professional Development Impacts School Outcomes

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized in 2015, states and schools were given flexibility to use their funds to support principal leadership. However, there is little research on if principal professional development programs really help to improve principals' performance and student achievement, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

To gain more insight into the impact of professional development programs, IES funded a large-scale evaluation of one approach at the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington. The program provided principals with 188 hours professional development training over a two-year period and found the program did not change principals' practices in ways intended. The results were published in a study on the IES website.

Researchers found that teachers were less likely to get instructional support and feedback from principals who had received professional development and the same teachers "whose principals received the program were no more likely to report positive perceptions of the usefulness of the feedback provided."

The retention rates for principals who worked in the study schools before the study began had slightly lower teacher retention than schools that did not participate. Students also had similar achievement in English language arts and math whether or not their principals had received professional development.

Chart from study showing effect of principal professional development on student achievement

One hundred elementary schools from eight districts in five states participated in the IES-funded program and the participating principals had five years of experience as administrators on average.

Seventy percent of program hours focused on instructional leadership and gave principals 100 hours more professional development than principals who did not participate during the first year. Participating principals also received 50 hours of individualized coaching to focus on specific goals and analyze the effects of those strategies each year.

The full study is available on IES's website.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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