The Principal Pipeline Initiative – Unpacking the Effects

The results are in, and they are exciting. Last week I shared Learning Forward’s anticipation about the release of the RAND study of the Wallace Foundation-supported Principal Pipeline Initiative. (See that post here.) On April 8, I represented Learning Forward at the New York unveiling of Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools. I joined the six districts that have participated in the initiative along with numerous other national organizations. We were all keenly interested in learning the impact of a district’s focus on a principal pipeline.

While the title of the report indicates a lot of what we learned from the report, here are some details, as summarized by The Wallace Foundation:

 

  1. Pipelines are feasible and affordable.

On average, the PPI districts spent less than ½% of their annual budgets to operate and enhance their principal pipeline efforts. This amounted to approximately $42 per student per year.

  1. Pipelines are effective

RAND found that student achievement benefits were widespread across PPI districts; across reading and math; over time; for elementary, middle, and, in math, high school. Interestingly, even larger effects were seen in schools with new pipeline principals, compared to similar schools in other districts in the same state. Data from the report showed that PPI schools outperformed comparison schools by 6.22 percentile points in reading and 2.87 percentile points in math. The report identified these results as sizeable and meaningful especially when compared to other comprehensive districtwide initiatives.

Of special note – the effects were positive and statistically significant for schools in the lowest quartile of student achievement.

In addition to the student achievement gains, principal retention also improved in PPI schools. Per 100 principals, PPI districts saw nearly six fewer losses after two years and nearly eight fewer after three years, relative to similar, non-PPI schools.

I heard a lot of buzz in the room when these results were shared. Many of us anticipated there might be good news regarding principal retention and were hopeful there might be some student achievement effect. After all, we all had in the backs of our minds that soundbite that “leadership is second only to teacher effectiveness among all school related factors that contribute to results for students.” However, we could not have fully anticipated the strength of the effect on student results in participating PPI districts.

It was a particularly powerful moment when Wallace Foundation president, Will Miller, shared that an independent analysis of the effects indicated that PPI now meets the evidence requirements under ESSA. This is extremely important for districts seeking to use their Title I and Title II dollars to support their leadership development efforts. For Learning Forward, this is another critical reminder that advocating for Title II support is more important than ever. Supporting leaders in meaningful ways works.

While we are excited about what we learned from our first read of the report, there is still so much to unpack. For example, in PPI districts, what professional learning strategies for principals and principal supervisors were utilized? What are implications for new principals vs experienced principals? How does this information help systems concerned about closing achievement gaps among students in various demographics?

We appreciate that The Wallace Foundation continues to contribute to our understanding about nurturing and supporting effective leadership. I hope you’ll explore the report and share with us your insights and questions.

Watch the release event of Principal Pipelines: A Feasible, Affordable, and Effective Way for Districts to Improve Schools here www.wallacefoundation.org/principalpipeline.