Do Principals Matter to Student Learning?

"Implementing a new curriculum requires strong leadership at the school level. The success of a school depends a lot on the principal. A significant fraction of public schools in the Philippines currently do not have a principal or a head teacher. This clearly needs to be addressed first before any reform in curriculum is initiated. Otherwise, a new curriculum has no hope of being implemented successfully."

How a principal influences student learning is a very important question. Unfortunately, it is a difficult question to address quantitatively. "School Leadership: A Key to Teaching Quality", a policy brief from the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in the United States, shows the following figure:


Waters, T., Marzano, R.J., & McNulty, B. (2003). Balanced leadership: What 30 years of research 
tells us about the effect of leadership on pupil achievement (A working paper). Aurora, CO: Midcontinent Research for Education and Learning.


On the same topic, Karin Chenoweth, senior writer for the Education Trust, also wrote an article for the Huffington Post, "Principals Matter: School Leaders Can Drive Student Learning". She brought attention to the following papers:

    This paper disentangles the impact of schools and teachers in influencing achievement with special attention given to the potential problems of omitted or mismeasured variables and of student and school selection. Unique matched panel data from the UTD Texas Schools Project permit the identification of teacher quality based on student performance along with the impact of specific, measured components of teachers and schools. Semiparametric lower bound estimates of the variance in teacher quality based entirely on within-school heterogeneity indicate that teachers have powerful effects on reading and mathematics achievement, though little of the variation in teacher quality is explained by observable characteristics such as education or experience. The results suggest that the effects of a costly ten student reduction in class size are smaller than the benefit of moving one standard deviation up the teacher quality distribution, highlighting the importance of teacher effectiveness in the determination of school quality.
    Gregory F. Branch, Eric A. Hanushek, and Steven G. Rivkin
    CALDER Working Paper No. 66
    January 2012
    Although much has been written about the importance of leadership in the determination of organizational success, there is little quantitative evidence due to the difficulty of separating the impact of leaders from other organizational components  – particularly in the public sector. Schools provide an especially rich environment for studying the impact of public sector management, not only because of the hypothesized importance of leadership but also because of the plentiful achievement data that provide information on institutional outcomes. Outcome based estimates of principal value-added to student achievement reveal significant variation in principal quality that appears to be larger for high-poverty schools. Alternate lower-bound estimates based on direct estimation of the variance yield smaller estimates of the variation in principal productivity but ones that are still important, particularly for high poverty schools. Patterns of teacher exits by principal quality validate the notion that a primary channel for principal influence is the management of the teacher force. Finally, looking at principal transitions by quality reveals little systematic evidence that more effective leaders have a higher probability of exiting high poverty schools. 
    Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning
    Final Report of Research to the Wallace Foundation
    Education is widely held to be crucial for the survival and success of individuals
    and countries in the emerging global environment. U.S. politicians of all stripes have
    placed education at the center of their political platforms, and education has been at the
    center of many European and Asian policy agendas. Comparable agreement is also
    evident about the contributions of leadership to the implementation of virtually all
    initiatives aimed at improving student learning and the quality of schools. It is therefore
    difficult to imagine a focus for research with greater social justification than research
    about successful educational leadership. That was the broad focus for this six-year study
    funded by the Wallace Foundation: to identify the nature of successful educational
    leadership and to better understand how such leadership can improve educational
    practices and student learning. 
    There is no doubt that principals play a major factor in student learning. It may not be possible to separate the impact of a principal from other factors, but studies do indicate a correlation between student achievement and principal quality. The implementation of DepEd's K to 12 while schools in the Philippines lack leadership is very problematic. Jerry Valentine and Mike Prater of the University of Missouri, Columbia published an article, "Instructional, Transformational, and Managerial Leadership and Student Achievement: High School Principals Make a Difference" where they cited nine roles for a principal that correlate strongly with student achievement:
    • Instructional Improvement
    • Curricular Improvement
    • Identifying a Vision
    • Providing a Model
    • Fostering Group Goals
    • Providing Support
    • Providing Stimulation
    • High Expectations
    • Interactive Processes
    The above are clearly important for any school but even more with a school that is plunging into a new curriculum. What chance does a school really have in successfully implementing a new curriculum without a principal?