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Data on School Leaders: What’s in Your System?

February 25, 2016 3 minute Read
Eva Myrick-Chiang and Dana Chambers

We know good school leaders matter. Knowing how to prepare school leaders to be effective can transform the leadership landscape. To better understand the effects that principals from select innovative preparation programs are having on student achievement, the George W. Bush Institute and American Institutes for Research are conducting a two-year principal preparation evaluation study for release this fall. Working on this study, we have encountered and overcome several challenges, but one of the most surprising being districts’ lack of consistent, reliable, and readily available data on principal training and experience.

Few districts were able to identify the name of the program or institution where each of their principals was trained and certified. Few knew how many years of experience principals had or how much or what type of internal professional development or training principals may have experienced. These are the very data that school districts should be collecting and using so they can make informed decisions about which principals to hire, which professional development programs to fund, and whether the supports and policies in place related to school leadership are working to improve student outcomes.

Some districts are making great strides in this type of data collection and informed decision making. With funding and other support through the Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and Prince George’s County Public Schools are creating leader tracking systems to collect comprehensive information about their current and aspiring principals.  The aim is to better understand how to find, support, and keep the best leaders.

A new brief from the Bush Institute and AIR summarizes the data challenges we experienced while conducing our research, spells out these challenges’ implications, and offers a checklist of data elements for districts to assess their current data and consider changes. One recommendation is to collect data on the types of professional development and other supports that principals receive. This information could help districts determine which types of training or other district supports may be contributing to developing the most effective principals, and, alternatively, which are not having much impact.

To increase student achievement for every child and improve the quality of our schools, we have to start with reliable data—and that includes data on our school principals. Information on both principal characteristics and the types of supports offered to principals throughout their career continuum will help us get well-prepared principals, support them in their roles, and retain them longer for our students.