How Do Principals Influence Student Achievement?

How Do Principals Influence Student Achievement?


NARRATOR: On April 24th, 2019, Dr. Elaine
Allensworth of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research spoke to a convening of
state education leaders on her research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences on
how principals influence student achievement. This video is a summary of her presentation,
including a pause for discussion of case studies. Watch for this signal on the screen. It means it is time to pause the video for
the case study discussion. You can download a snapshot of the research
and the case studies using the information In the video description. Dr. Allensworth begins with some background
on the study. DR. ALLENSWORTH: Everyone knows that school leaders are vitally important for school improvement. There are really no qualitative studies that
find schools improving without strong leaders. We know this, and yet it’s really hard to
say what it is about school leadership that’s really important. There’re so many, so many aspects to this
job, right? It’s a really big job. What is it that really matters? We know that instructional leadership is really
important. We’ve heard a lot about that, but we’ve also
had research in recent years that says, “Hey, wait a minute. What about organizational management? We’ve kind of forgotten about that,” and that’s
also critically important. And when we think about instructional leadership,
well, what does that actually mean? Does that mean choosing the curriculum for
your school? Does it mean teacher evaluation, working one-on-one
with individual teachers, doing walkthroughs of classrooms? Or does it mean setting the context of the
school so that you can have strong instruction, right? Getting teachers working together and not
actually doing that one-on-one work with teachers. So we wanted to know, what is it that is most
important? All of it is important in some way, right? But what is it that you want to make sure
you’re keeping your focus on and thinking about all these other pieces of leadership
that’s supporting that? And then we wanted to know, well, does this
matter at all types of schools? We did this big study in Chicago. We had hundreds of elementary schools and
about a hundred high schools. Chicago is a district that has been increasing
the number of schools, so we have more and more schools over time. We have all of this survey data, we have student
test results. We use the students’ test results to identify
which schools were improving compared to which schools were not improving. We looked from 2007/08 school year to the
2013/14 school year. But we knew that wasn’t going to be enough,
so we also decided we would go and visit schools and find out what was happening. We didn’t want to go to schools where we knew
there wasn’t a lot happening, right? Where teachers did not think that their principals
were strong instructional leaders. We wanted to know what would really distinguish
schools where principals were working on instructional improvement, working with teachers on instructional
improvement. We wanted to know what would distinguish those
that showed big improvements in learning gains compared to those that were not really moving,
and so that’s what we did. And then we chose 12 schools for our case
studies. We only chose neighborhood schools, and the
district is 85 percent free and reduced-price lunch and 85 percent underrepresented minority,
and the neighborhood schools are generally over 90 percent free and reduced-price lunch. Six high schools, six elementary schools. In Chicago, most elementary schools are K–8
schools, so they include the middle grades. We found schools that consistently reported
that their principals were strong instructional leaders. We only looked at schools that had the same
leaders in place for several years and then we identified those with strong improving
test scores, and there were a lot of them in this group because they all had strong
instructional leaders, and then we identified those that did not have improving test scores
over time. And then went and talked to the school leaders
and talked to the school staff, including the teacher leaders in the school and other
teachers. So, I’m going to jump right into our findings. So many ways that principals could be working
on school improvement. What we found most differentiated which schools
improved from those that didn’t improve was the school climate. The schools with strong and improving school
climate were the schools that had improving test score gains, and that was the strongest
path from principal leadership to student learning gains, was through a strong school
climate. So where students and teachers feel safe,
supported, and where there are high-academic expectations, those are the schools with a
strong learning climate. And then, we dug a little further, and we
found that principals that showed improving learning gains, what we saw in their schools
was that there was teacher influence, active teacher leadership in the school working to
have a strong climate that’s supportive for all teachers, all students in the school,
and that’s where we get the biggest learning gains. So we saw this was the strongest path and
sometimes we brought instruction in and we found that instruction fits very neatly right
here so that when you have a stronger learning climate, you have stronger instruction and
then you get higher learning gains. This is only the main path; there are other
paths. Sometimes people ask us, “Well, is this true
everywhere? Is it true in elementary schools and in high
schools?” Yes, we see the same thing in both elementary
schools and high schools. A lot of times people say, “Well, what if
schools already start out with high achievement, right? Or start out with strong learning climates? Then can we get onto the process of learning,
right? Does it not matter anymore?” Actually, what we find is, further improvements
in safety and expectations actually are associated with even stronger learning gains, even in
schools that start out strong, and a lot of times they decline, right? And so when you have declining climate, you
end up having a decline in achievement, right? So we actually found it mattered no matter
what, even in very strong, high-achieving schools. And then people say, “Well, what about other
pieces of organization, parent involvement, instruction, things like that? Does that mean those don’t matter?” No. Again, we’re looking just at the strong path
from the principal to the learning gains, right? But all those other things matter, especially
in that they can support strong learning climate. And then people say, “Well, could the ordering
go in the other way?” Maybe when you have strong achievement growth,
then people feel happier about the school, strong learning climate, like that. And what we found is that the evidence is
much stronger, and when you see gains here on the left, you’re more likely to see gains
on the right. Now, I’m going to dig into the case studies
where we found out what was actually happening. These are all schools with strong leaders. There are good things happening in all of
the schools. Some of the schools show big improvements
over time while others didn’t. Before I get into the details on this, I’m
going to let you guys take some time to look at two of the schools. NARRATOR: Now, it’s time to pause the video
for a discussion of the case studies. You can download the case studies using the
information in the video description. Choose either the elementary and middle school
case studies, or the high school case studies. As you review the case studies, compare and
contrast your cases on the dimensions shown on the screen. Pause the video now. After reviewing the case studies, participants
and Dr. Allensworth discussed the distinctions on the five dimensions between the growing
schools–schools with strong leaders and strong or increasing test scores, and contrasting
schools–schools that also had strong leaders, but where the test scores were continuously
weak or declining. Here are the highlights of that conversation
from each dimension. PARTICIPANT 1: One stated that all of the
teachers had mentioned different goals, whereas the other one, they collectively established
their goals as groups and then brought them forward as a whole. DR. ALLENSWORTH: We call it a tree versus a field
of flowers, right? Everything branches from that tree and so
it’s just much more coherent, and you can make connections across work that’s going
on across the school in different teams versus everyone’s doing their own thing, and you’re
not learning from each other, supporting each other in any way. PARTICIPANT 2: Again, in the first one, the
principal would analyze the data and then tell them. In the second one, it was they got together
in their teams and analyzed and looked and decided. PARTICIPANT 3: In one high school, the help
or assistance to reach these goals happened at the end of the year, sort of panic and
hurry up. DR. ALLENSWORTH: Yes. PARTICIPANT 3: Whereas in the other school,
it seemed much more ongoing and not only that, it aligned to core standards and then they
were always progress monitoring toward that. DR. ALLENSWORTH: Everything’s much more proactive,
regularly looking at data. I mean, prevention is so much more effective
than remediation. PARTICIPANT 4: Foxglove, the principal is
asking the teachers to do a lot of different things, so she’s distributed a lot of responsibilities,
delegated them, but it doesn’t really constitute teacher leadership. It constitutes them doing a lot of different
extra jobs. In the second element, in the second school,
there is true teacher leadership because they’re involved in decisionmaking and in setting
goals. They’re meeting together and solving problems
together, so there’s a huge difference between the two. DR. ALLENSWORTH: Yes, they’re working together
around common goals with the authority to be able to do that. PARTICIPANT 5: In the elementary case, the
first elementary seemed to have an inferred blame culture where it was like, “Well, who’s
responsible for when something goes wrong?” And this kind of “pass the buck” mentality. ALLENSWORTH: Yeah. PARTICIPANT 5: Versus the second elementary,
the culture was referenced around relationships and being really focused on developing those
relationships because it was a collective community investment around that culture and
the success of those kids. DR. ALLENSWORTH: “Opt-out” is where if you need
help, you get it. So schools, teachers come up with systems
together to support all students in the school. And so, looking at data, who needs help? Who’s falling behind in assignments? Who’s getting a D? Who did poorly on a test? And then they have structures that are set
up and students are automatically enrolled in lunchtime tutoring. You’re automatically going to get a student
advocate. They have systems that are set up, they know
what to do, and then all teachers participate in those structures, right? So there’s the one school where teachers alternate
doing the lunchtime tutoring, right? Or they have structures set up so that if
a midterm report comes out, all students who get a D or F, there’ll be an advocate for
them that will work with the teacher, work with parents, come together, find out what
that student needs, right? No one’s falling through the cracks. You would have to opt-out of getting help,
right? And teachers would have to opt-out of being
part of the school system. When we’re thinking about principals’ jobs,
what makes the biggest difference? It’s creating the conditions for teaching
and learning, right? And that means working on the school climate,
the expectations, safety, and really keeping staff focused on the goals, focused on the
data, ensuring universal support for everyone. All teachers, all students, okay? That’s what instructional leadership looks
like. There are no strong instructional leaders
that aren’t also strong organizational managers, okay? You have to have a school that works, right? But where you see the big learning gains is
where you have principals that really are focused on providing a climate that supports
teaching and learning, where they really are supporting teaching and learning in the school,
but they do that not by necessarily working with each individual teacher themselves. That would be impossible, although, you can
get improvement for particular teachers in doing that, but getting teachers working together…and
we see this in other people, we see this in the research all the time. It matters so much more how teachers are working
together in a school than the individual qualities of the individual teachers in terms of how
strong a school is in terms of learning gains. NARRATOR: Dr. Allensworth’s presentation draws
on this research. Thank you for viewing this presentation by
Dr. Allensworth. For more information on this topic, please
contact [email protected]

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