Principals and Student Achievement: What the Research Says

Principals and Student Achievement: What the Research Says

Principals and Student Achievement: What the Research Says

Principals and Student Achievement: What the Research Says


In Principals of High-Achieving Schools: What the Research Says, Kathleen Cotton synthesizes the findings of 81 key research articles examining principals? influence on school performance. She focuses on international research conducted from the 1970s to the present, especially that of the last 15 years. Early researchers identified a common set of attributes that seemed to account for the differences in achievement levels of schools with similar student populations. At the high-achieving schools, they consistently found principals with strong administrative leadership, high expectations of students and staff, a safe and orderly school environment, a primary focus on learning and achieving clear goals, and regular monitoring of student progress. The principals are also instructional leaders. Along these same lines, other research focused on the principals? involvement with instruction as a key difference between more-effective and less-effective schools. These principals, they found, also fostered strong interpersonal relationships, giving feedback to teachers and involving staff in decision making. Later research has supported these findings and elaborated upon them, asking new questions. For example, is the influence of principals on student achievement direct or indirect? How do successful principals motivate others, by appealing to their self-interest or to their desire to help others? Is there a difference between male and female principals?And while the principal is not the sole factor affecting student performance, Cotton concludes that, working with others, principals can have a profound and positive influence on student learning. In fact, it would be difficult to find a high-performing school that did not have an effective principal'she quotes one researcher who even said, ?If you know of an effective school without an effective principal, call me collect.'


Our results indicate that the manner in which elementary
and high school principals govern the school, build
strong school climate, and organize and monitor the
school's instructional program are important predictors
of academic achievement.

—Ronald Heck and George Marcoulides,
“Principal Leadership Behaviors and School Achievement,”
in NASSP Bulletin

IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO FIND AN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER OR practitioner who does not believe that school principals are critically important to school success. Teachers and students know this from personal experience, and decades of research have consistently found positive relationships between principal behavior and student academic achievement. This synthesis focuses on educational research conducted from the 1970s to the present, with special emphasis on research from the past 15 years, since the latter has a great deal to say about the manner in which principals influence student performance.

Looking first at earlier research studies, we can see that two related lines of inquiry produced findings about the . . .

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