Beginning in 2015, a coalition of research and education institutions will launch a large-scale, randomized controlled trial evaluation of principal professional development funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The rigorous evaluation will provide evidence on the effectiveness of principal professional development and practical guidance to policymakers, states and school districts.

The evaluation will include 100 elementary schools spread across approximately 10 high-need U.S. school districts. Schools will be randomly assigned, with 50 schools serving as a control group and 50 treatment group schools receiving a principal professional development intervention provided by the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership.

The Center for Educational Leadership will provide treatment group principals with formal group training, ongoing one-on-one coaching, and professional learning communities. The training will begin prior to the start of the 2015-2016 school year and continue into the 2016-2017 school year.

This professional development will provide principals participating in the study with tools to hone their skills in the following areas:

  • Improving teacher instruction — through observation, analysis, and the implementation of inquiry cycles to provide growth-based feedback to teachers;
  • Guiding staffing plans and staff development; and
  • Focusing schoolwide behaviors to create an equity-driven, achievement-based culture of learning to facilitate improved academic success for all students.

The study will focus on the following research questions:

  • Implementation. What are the professional development experiences of principals in the study?
  • Impacts. What are the impacts of intensive principal professional development on school climate and educator behaviors, teacher retention and effectiveness, and student achievement?

Previous research suggests that principal leadership is the second most important school-based factor (after teaching quality) that influences student achievement. Unfortunately, until now little research has been conducted regarding the impact of principal professional development programs on principal practice, classroom instruction and student achievement.

“We have seen principals improve their leadership and practice as a result of intensive professional development,” said Dr. Stephen Fink, executive director of the Center for Educational Leadership. “This important new study will provide the most rigorous evaluation to date of principal professional development’s impact on principals, teachers, students and schools.”

The study team plans to release a year one report in 2017 and a final, year two report in 2019. Read more about the study and partner organizations.

About the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership

The Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), founded in 2001 as a nonprofit service arm of the University of Washington College of Education, is dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap that continues to divide our nation’s children along the lines of race, class, language and disability. CEL works side-by-side with teachers, principals and school system leaders to build the expertise to deliver great classroom instruction around a unified vision of outstanding teaching. All of CEL’s research-based methods are rooted in the belief that every child can succeed at the highest level. Learn more at