A widely used principal professional development program focusing on teacher and classroom observations did not boost student achievement, improve school climate or increase the amount of time principals spend on instructional issues, according to an evaluation from the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education.
The program, run by the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, involved 188 hours of PD, including a summer institute, group trainings during the school year and individualized coaching. The researchers conducted the study in 100 elementary schools from eight districts in five states, randomly assigning schools to either participate or not participate in the program for two years.
The study shows English language arts and math scores remained the same for schools in both groups, and principal retention also did not improve. The researchers note while there were some examples of principals’ practices associated with student achievement, more work is needed to understand how principal PD programs can help school leaders make more time for instructional leadership practices.
In recent years, researchers and policymakers have emphasized the role of principals as instructional leaders as a key to improving student outcomes. Some districts have even created new administrative roles in schools to take some of the responsibility for operational tasks off principals’ shoulders. That’s why the results of this evaluation seem to be a departure from other recent studies pointing to positive results from efforts focusing on school leadership.
It’s unclear from the report whether any of the districts in the study made changes to lessen the amount of time principals spent on operations. But the results show both the program group and the comparison group spent the same amount of time on issues such as attendance, discipline and finance.
Those in the program group also spent an hour less on curriculum than those in the comparison group. Teachers whose principals were part of the PD also reported they received less frequent feedback on their instruction than those whose principals were not part of the program.
The Center for Educational Leadership was founded in 2001. Its “Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning” framework focuses on purpose, student engagement, curriculum and pedagogy, assessment for student learning, and classroom environment and culture.
According to its website, the center worked with 265 school districts in 21 states during the 2017-18 school year. In a center survey, 88.5% of those who participated in trainings said their practices improved.