Useful Information for Principals

In professional services firms, whether they deliver accounting, healthcare, engineering, legal, consulting, or educational service -- first line leaders are critical to high performance. With that in mind, in this section of the site, we'll be posting information that is focused on the leadership role that principals must play if K12 performance is to substantially improve.

We'll start with six thought provoking papers. This first is about leadership in professional services firms in general. We think it is important that principals see their role in this larger context. The second is about the challenges of principal recruitment and selection. The third is about creating district conditions that enable all principals to be successful. The fourth is about a key issue: the extent to which the barriers to school performance improvement faced by principals are rooted in policy or in organizational culture. The fifth paper is about how high achieving school districts have changed the role of the principal. And the sixth is a detailed analysis from the UK of the type of principal who is most likely to succeed in making sustained improvements in student achievement results.

Judging from the increasing volume of new research papers on principal leadership, it is clear that (thankfully) this critical issue is becoming much more widely recognized and extensively researched. This paper highlights how teachers develop more quickly in a more professional school environment. RAND has new reports on improving school leadership, and on successful principals. This paper and this one separately conclude that high quality management is critical to achievement improvement. Here is another paper about great principals. This article uses school leadership to illustrate the importance of what the author calls "getting better at getting better." And here is a new paper about learning through reflecting on your experience, which is a common and critical practice across many professions.

The papers just keep coming. This is a new report from Bain and Company on how principal sand teacher leaders can transform schools. Gallup highlights the incredible impact on organizations of leaders they call “superbosses.” This paper is on principals as instructional leaders, and here is a paper from Brookings that provides an international comparison of how principals’ play this role. More recently, here is a 538 article on how the science of grading teacher performance is stronger than many people would have you believe. And here is an excellent comparison of principals in private and public schools, and how their differing scope for action affects their schools’ performance.

From the Harvard Business Review comes this research on the four different types of school leaders in the UK, and which does the best job of improving long-term student achievement performance. A must read.

However, as this excellent article from the Naval War College Review clearly describes, significant challenges have to be overcome in all organizations in order to deliver substantial improvements in their performance.

As business leaders increasingly seek to partner with schools and districts to improve performance, this paper provides some interesting perspectives on how superintendents from across the nation see these partnerships. Let’s just say that K12 and business sector leaders’ perspectives are not yet perfectly aligned…

Teachers have long demanded that they be accorded the same status as other professionals. With that in mind, it is interesting to examine school systems through a professional service firm lens. Two excellent papers by Laura Empson from Cass Business School explore the nature of successful leadership -- and the characteristics of successful leaders -- in a range of different professional service firms. They make thought provoking reading for superintendents and principals alike. You can find them here and here.

In the UK, the Teacher Development Trust recently published an excellent synthesis of the available research on high and low performing teacher professional development programs. As this issue seems to be a continuing hot button here too, it should be an interesting read. Shortly after the UK report was published, another new report was published in the US ("The Mirage" by the New Teacher Project) on the high cost and low effectiveness of teacher professional development programs in the US. Did you know that, accounting for time and cash costs, the districts studied invested an average of $18,000 per teacher per year in PD? And essentially got zero return on this investment. Stunning. You can read the Washington Post's take on the report here, and download the report itself here. And you can download three more commentaries on the Mirage, here, here, and here. All make for thought provoking reading on this critical subject. So to do Brooking’s latest thoughts on teacher professional development, as well as this analysis of “What Ails Teacher PD” and this report on how teacher PD works in high performing school systems.

Finally, to put these professional development reports into context, go back and read (or re-read) The Widget Effect, TNTP's previous report that criticized K-12's failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness, and this report on why teacher quality is critical.

On a positive note, this new piece of research from McKinsey helps point the way towards how districts can increase the returns from their large investments in professional development.

And here is an excellent piece of new research to help principals hire more effective teachers for their schools. And this report (and this one) from the RAND think-tank go into great detail about what principals can do to improve teaching effectiveness. Why so many districts seem to struggle so much with implementing the findings from these and other excellent pieces of research is another issue, that goes to the heart of one of the root causes of our student achievement problem.

Another hot button issue is the the magnitude and impact of the teacher absence problem. This report from the Center for American Progress finds that Colorado has the nation's tenth highest percentage of teachers who are absent ten or more days per school year. And this article highlights the substantial negative impact those absences have on student achievement. This report covers the same issue. Finally, if you would like to obtain specific teacher absence data for individual districts and schools, you can find it by searching the US Department of Education's Civil Rights Database.

Canada's leading think tank, the CD Howe Institute, recently published a new analysis of whether increased teacher compensation leads to better student achievement results. It is a thought provoking read. However, it misses what to us is an essential point. One of hallmarks of being a professional is to give your best to your clients, regardless of what you are paid. Hence, it comes as no surprise when researchers find (as they repeatedly have), that compensation is not a strong incentive for excellent performance by professionals.

However, that does not mean that professionals do not expect differentiated compensation as a reward for superior performance — just look at the spreads in pay you find in typical professional service firms, even among professionals with the same level of experience/seniority. Of course, this line of argument frequently triggers the counter that it is impossible to measure teachers’ performance in a manner that would yield a “fair” performance compensation system. We have three responses to this objection.

First, if other professionals have managed to devise metrics to support performance based compensation systems, why can’t education professionals do the same? Second, no performance measurement system will ever be perfect — for example, just look at the wide variation that exists in teacher grading standards, even within the same school. The issue at hand isn’t creating a system that is perfect; rather, it is creating a system that is good enough to enable us to offer significant differentiated rewards to our best teachers, with an acceptable degree of confidence that our compensation decisions are, in the aggregate, reasonably accurate. And third, the research shows that teacher evaluation systems are working reasonably well.

Here is a column on how Student Based Budgeting helps make principals more effective.

Achieve, Inc. recently released the last of its report on the results of its survey of students, employees, higher education, and parents on the extent to which high school students are graduating college and career ready. The results are sobering. Here are Report 1 Report 2 and Report 3.

Gallup has recently published the results of their research on parent engagement in schools. It is well worth a read by accountability committee members and principals: Part 1 and Part 2.

And here is an overview of how school districts can integrate experiments and the measurement of their results into their day-to-day processes (here is the full report).

The US Institute of Education Sciences has published a new guide, “How to Use the School Survey of Practices Associated with High Performance.” This is a tool that principals and Accountability Committees should find very useful.