The study attaches quantitative measures to a theory about how change occurs in schools and about the centrality of principal leadership to that change. The theory holds that principals, by receiving professional development about high-quality instruction and about how they can train and motivate their teachers, can turn that knowledge around by organizing formal and informal professional development for teachers in their schools. The theory further holds that teachers’ receipt of professional development will result in better instructional practices in classrooms and that these will lead to higher student achievement. To test this theory, the researchers created quantitative measures of principal professional development and leadership behaviors, instructional practice, and student outcomes and then measured the correlations between the steps in the theory.
The study was undertaken in three urban districts — Austin, Texas; Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Region 10 of New York City (an area that includes Central Harlem and Washington Heights). These districts have large proportions of disadvantaged, minority, and low-performing students and partnered with IFL to put in place major instructional leadership efforts. Across the three districts, 49 schools — primarily schools with a history of low student achievement and located in low-income communities — participated in the study.
The study employed a variety of data sources. Surveys of principals, and teachers, complemented by qualitative research at selected case study schools, constituted the key source of data on leadership behaviors. Classroom observations as well as surveys provided information on teachers’ instructional practices. And student scores on standardized tests, available from records maintained by the districts, served as measures of student achievement.