Researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of large and medium sized districts. They followed a structured interview protocol and then analyzed the results.
Leaders of large and medium-size school districts overwhelmingly view good principals as essential to school improvement. Yet about only half are satisfied with the candidates in their principal pipelines. This finding suggests that the “pipeline” for preparing, hiring, and supporting new principals could be improved.
That’s one takeaway from this first-of-its-kind study. Researchers interviewed a nationally representative sample of superintendents and other top administrators from large and medium-size school districts. They wanted to find out the degree to which districts use elements found in effective principal pipelines.
The survey is based on a groundbreaking 2019 report by RAND. That report studied six large school districts that built strong principal pipelines with funding from The Wallace Foundation. The benefits for students were notable. Pipeline-district schools with newly placed principals outperformed comparison schools in reading and math. The study identified practices that made the pipelines effective.
This follow-up survey was intended to see how widespread these pipeline practices were in districts serving more than 10,000 students. The survey found that:
Districts reported having many elements of strong principal pipelines in place:
Some practices were less common.
Large majorities in both large and medium-size districts showed interest in strengthening their pipelines. Some areas they most wanted to strengthen were:
The biggest obstacles to undertaking this work? Time and funding, district leaders said.
The researchers also interviewed officials in 17 districts having fewer than 10,000 students. That sample was not large enough to be representative of the 12,000 or so small districts nationally. But the interviews suggest areas for future study. This is important because small districts serve about 45 percent of public school students in the U.S.
Responses showed some similarity with responses from the larger districts. All small district leaders agreed that school leadership was tied to school improvement. Most said their districts had a number of pipeline elements including leader standards. Most also engaged one with at least one pre-service principal preparation program. The majority offered coaching for first-year principals.