New Report On Principal Effectiveness In The Works

AFSA Commissioned Study to Address Dearth of Research on School Leaders’ Roles

Originally posted in the fall 2011 edition of The Leader

In August, AFSA commissioned the American Institutes for Research (AIR), an internationally renowned firm specializing in social science and behavioral research, to conduct a study on principal effectiveness. Specifically, the report will focus on the best methods of principal evaluation, the shared qualities that effective principals demonstrate and the need for principals to have a say in reform.

A brief of the report, titled “Effective Principals, Effective Schools: A Synthesis of Research Evidence,” was presented at AFSA’s West Coast Regional Leadership Conference in San Francisco. A complete report will be published shortly.

One of the more important findings in the report is that it takes three to five years for a principal’s strategies to yield demonstrable change in student achievement. The finding makes clear that a school cannot be turned around overnight, as is commonly demanded by business-model advocates of reform. The AIR briefing also revealed that principal quality is the second most important school-level factor influencing student achievement, after teacher quality. Indeed, the report made clear that principals account for 25 percent of the total school-level impact on student achievement.

“Policy is out in front of the research in regard to principal evaluations,” said Dr. Matthew Clifford, a senior research scientist at AIR and co-author of the report who presented its initial findings to attendees of the San Francisco conference.

Dr. Matthew Clifford, Senior Research Scientist at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), presents the initial findings of the research report AFSA commissioned AIR to conduct on principal effectiveness.

AIR’s preliminary findings aren’t new to academic researchers, but have been largely ignored by politicians, policy makers and business-model neophytes calling for rapid school turnarounds. In this atmosphere of ill-informed demands, principals in many cases are being fired if they fail to turn a school around in just one year, raising serious concerns about gross injustice in the current evaluation process.

In contrast, Clifford said AIR’s research showed that, “We need to take a developmental approach when dealing with principals, as we do with teachers.”

AFSA will announce to members when the report is finalized and the key findings that come of AIR’s research. AIR is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research. More information about AIR’s research can be found at