Massachusetts Study Points to More Cost-Effective Way to Boost Student Achievement
Strong Math and English Gains Show Clear Benefits of Training Principals
Washington, D.C. – A new scientifically rigorous study found that principals that had completed a National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) training program were able to lead their schools to significantly greater gains in mathematics and reading/English language arts than comparison schools. The gains, which averaged over a month of additional learning per student, were comparable to much more expensive interventions such as comprehensive school reform or reduced class size initiatives. The NISL program in Massachusetts costs about $4,000 per principal.
The quasi-experimental study conducted by independent researchers at Old Dominion University and Johns Hopkins University examines the effect of NISL's Executive Development Program (EDP) on student achievement in 38 Massachusetts schools from 2006 to 2010.
Researchers examined the performance on the state-mandated Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) tests in math and reading of 38 schools in the state's highest need districts. These schools were led by principals who began NISL's EDP in 2007 and remained at the same school through the end of the 2010 school year. Among the new study's key findings are:
- The NISL schools saw statistically significant gains in both math and reading assessments for elementary and middle school students versus comparison schools across the state.
- The gains translated into an average of more than a month of additional learning for all students in the 38 schools compared to what would have been expected without the NISL EDP intervention.
- According to the researchers, the math and reading gains at the school level were "quite large relative to results observed in similar studies of comprehensive school reform effects or Title I program effects," as well as reduced class size projects.
- And they noted that the NISL Program is "highly cost-effective", with the effect on each school achieved for only about $4,000 per participating principal.
As a result, the researchers concluded, "from a practical standpoint, the NISL Executive Development Program provides a viable alternative to the … strategy of trying to improve student achievement simply by changing school leadership."
"These findings —combined with another recent study of Pennsylvania NISL schools that showed similar results—not only reaffirm that highly effective school leadership is critical to raising student achievement. They also demonstrate that professional development can make principals more effective, and can be a faster and less expensive alternative to recruiting and training new principals," said Robert C. Hughes, president and CEO of NISL.
With many states currently wrestling with what role they can play to support student learning during a period of tight budgets, "Massachusetts's success providing cost-effective statewide support that leads to real achievement gains can serve as a model," Hughes added.
To date, more than 1,700 school leaders in Massachusetts and more than 4,000 school leaders in 17 states have competed NISL's Executive Development Program. Statewide Executive Development Programs are in place in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Arizona. District-wide programs are in progress in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada and Wisconsin.
The Executive Development Program provides job-embedded training for principals at all stages of their careers. Through online and face-to-face instruction over a 12- to 18-month period, the program's primary goal is to ensure that the participating school leaders have the knowledge, skills, and tools to improve student achievement in low-performing schools or to be able to lead good schools to great performance.