Effective school leaders are a critical component of what makes a school successful. The role that school principals and other leaders play in improving the performance of schools is a burgeoning field of research. State and district policymakers, as well as other organizations, such as foundations and nonprofits, are emphasizing efforts targeting school leadership as a way to improve student outcomes. Given the focus on accountability in education, policymakers and funders are keenly interested in evaluating whether efforts aimed at improving school leadership result in improved student learning.
The efforts designed to improve school leadership include a wide range of policies, practices, and programs undertaken by states, districts, and charter management organizations (CMOs), as well as organizations that do not provide direct services to students (e.g., independent principal preparation programs or foundations). Principals, who have primary responsibility for leading schools, are the target of many of these efforts. These include efforts to improve the skills and competencies of current and future principals, the way schools and districts manage principals, and the environments in which principals work. The efforts may involve new activities or reforms to current policies and could be implemented at the state or district level. Potential efforts are the provision of coaching for new principals; greater autonomy for principals; the training of aspiring principals; and new approaches to the selection, placement, and provision of professional development for new or current principals. These efforts might span multiple states or districts or be implemented by CMOs or other organizations with an interest in principal leadership. Often such efforts are introduced without incorporating formal methods for their evaluation, in spite of the fact that it is important to understand whether the efforts work and are a good use of resources.
In the current era of accountability, gains in student achievement are the key criteria against which stakeholders seek to judge the effect of these efforts. The evaluation of these school leadership improvement efforts is distinct from evaluating individual principal performance, although the measures used for individual principal performance evaluation could also be used for the broader evaluation of improvement efforts. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 required all public schools to administer standardized tests and to issue public reports of school-level test scores each year. Failure to meet the test-score targets set by states leads to an escalating set of sanctions and interventions. As a result of this law, district and school administrators have increased their emphasis on raising student achievement. Recently, the federal government allowed states to apply for waivers to provide flexibility for the 2014 proficiency target. One requirement for receiving a waiver is that the state must submit plans to develop systems for evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effective-