- Brendan Bartanen
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School principals are viewed as critical mechanisms by which to improve student outcomes, but there remain important methodological questions about how to measure principals' effects. We propose a framework for measuring principals' contributions to student outcomes and apply it empirically using data from Tennessee, New York City, and Oregon. We find that using contemporaneous student outcomes to assess principal performance is flawed. Value-added models misattribute to principals changes in student performance caused by factors that principals minimally control. Further, little to none of the variation in average student test scores or attendance is explained by persistent effectiveness differences between principals.
A growing literature uses value-added (VA) models to quantify principals' contributions to improving student outcomes. Principal VA is typically estimated using a connected networks model that includes both principal and school fixed effects (FE) to isolate principal effectiveness from fixed school factors that principals cannot control. While conceptually appealing, high-dimensional FE regression models require sufficient variation to produce accurate VA estimates. Using simulation methods applied to administrative data from Tennessee and New York City, we show that limited mobility of principals among schools yields connected networks that are extremely sparse, where VA estimates are either highly localized or statistically unreliable. Employing a random effects shrinkage estimator, however, can alleviate estimation error to increase the reliability of principal VA.
Strengthening teacher supply is a key policy objective for K–12 public education, but understanding of the early teacher pipeline remains limited. We leverage the universe of applications to a large public university in Texas from 2009–2020 to examine the pipeline into teacher education and employment as a K–12 public school teacher. A unique feature of Texas's centralized higher education application is it solicits potential interest in teacher certification. We document sharply declining interest in teaching over the period. Further, we show that nonwhite, male, and high-achieving students are substantially underrepresented in teacher education. Particularly for race/ethnicity, these disparities are only partially explained by differences in interest at application.
High rates of principal turnover nationally mean that school districts constantly are called on to recruit and select new principals. The importance of a school’s principal makes choosing candidates who will be effective paramount, yet we have little evidence linking information known to school districts at time of selection to principal’s future job performance. Using data from Tennessee, we test the degree to which observable information about novice principals from prior to entry, including qualifications, work history information, and effectiveness in prior roles, predicts practice ratings assigned to them in their initial years in the principalship. We find that educational attainment and years of experience in other jobs hold little predictive power. Performance ratings received as an assistant principal (AP) or teacher, however, do predict principal effectiveness. Moreover, APs who previously worked in schools with highly rated principals are more likely to be effective upon transitioning into the principalship.
Assistant principals are important education personnel, both as essential members of school leadership teams and apprentice principals. However, empirical evidence on their career outcomes remains scarce. Using statewide administrative data from Tennessee and Missouri, we provide the first comprehensive analysis of AP mobility. While prior work focuses only on AP promotions into principal positions, we also account for APs who exit school leadership and transfer to a different school. We find yearly mobility rates of 25–28%, with 10% of APs leaving school leadership, 7.5% changing schools, and 7.5–10% becoming principals. We also document a strong relationship between AP mobility and principal turnover, where higher-performing APs are substantially more likely to replace their departing principal. Principal transitions also appear to increase the likelihood that APs exit school leadership and change schools, highlighting an additional cost of high rates of principal churn.
Using rich longitudinal data from one of the largest teacher education programs in Texas, we examine the measurement of pre-service teacher (PST) quality and its relationship with entry into the K–12 public school teacher workforce. Drawing on rubric-based observations of PSTs during clinical teaching, we find that little of the variation in observation scores is attributable to actual differences between PSTs. Instead, differences in scores largely reflect differences in the rating standards of field supervisors. We also find that men and PSTs of color receive systematically lower scores. Finally, higher-scoring PSTs are slightly more likely to enter the teacher workforce and substantially more likely to be hired at the same school as their clinical teaching placement.
Using statewide data from Tennessee over more than a decade, this paper estimates the job performance returns to principal experience as measured by student, teacher, and principal outcomes. I find that principals improve substantially over time, evidenced by higher student achievement, higher ratings from supervisors, and lower rates of teacher turnover. However, improvement in student achievement as principals gain experience does not carry over when principals change schools. The returns to school-specific experience are largest for principals in high-poverty schools, highlighting the potential benefits of policies to improve the recruitment and retention of high-quality leaders in hard-to-staff environments.
Exploiting variation from principal and teacher transitions over long administrative data panels in Missouri and Tennessee, we estimate the effects of principal race on the hiring and turnover of racially diverse teachers. Evidence from the two states is strikingly similar. Black principals increase the probability that a newly hired teacher is Black by 5–7 percentage points. This result appears to be partially driven by principals hiring from within their networks of educators with whom they have worked before. Black principals also decrease Black teacher mobility, reducing the probability that a Black teacher changes schools by 2–5 percentage points. Increases in Black teacher hiring and reductions in turnover mean that a change from a White to a Black principal increases the fraction of Black teachers working in a school by about 3 percentage points, on average, increasing exposure of students to Black teachers. Further evidence suggests that assignment to a Black teacher increases the math achievement of Black students, though the presence of a Black principal appears to have positive impacts on Black students’ math achievement that is not explained by assignment to Black teachers.