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Margaret Terry Orr, (212) 875-4546,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

School Principal Report Has Limited Utility To Guide Policy and Practice, Review Finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (March 5, 2013) – The role of a principal as an educational leader is an important role in today's era of increased school accountability. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research attempted to estimate how much "high" and "low" effective principals affect student achievement. The study also explored patterns of change in the composition of schools' teaching staffs, as well as the movement of principal talent across schools.

A new review of the study and of accompanying less-technical material published in Education Next found that estimating principal effectiveness is simply not possible given current methodology and sample size restrictions.

Terry Orr, director of the Future School Leaders Academy at the Bank Street College of Education, reviewed Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals, and a related article, "School Leaders Matter" from Education Next.

Orr has published widely on school leadership preparation program and graduate evaluation, and served on New York State's Educator Evaluation taskforce.

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Press related to the study's release claimed that data from Texas show that students can gain between two and seven months of additional learning in schools with "effective" principals. The researchers used three value-added models in their study.

Orr's review confirmed the results "that principals have a positive, independent influence on achievement and that the size of this influence varies by school poverty rates."

However, Orr found methodological flaws, which "raise serious questions about the actual effect sizes principals might register on student test scores and thus the validity of such analysis."

Furthermore, Orr cites more recently released studies of value-added indicators of principal effectiveness, "All found that isolating principal effects requires controlling for school effects, which can only be done with principals who are new to the position who can be compared to prior principals of the same school."

This is of concern, as multiple states have adopted principal evaluation systems that included similar estimates of principal effectiveness relative to changes in student test scores.

Orr concludes, "Taken together, the report has limited utility to guide policy and practice."

Find Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals on the web:

Find "School Leaders Matter" on the web:

Find the "Review of Two Articles on Principal Effects" by Terry Orr on the GLC website:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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