Evidence in Action: Leadership Changes Everything

Thanks to the persistence of social entrepreneurs across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This Evidence in Action blog series will highlight the voices of the more than 70 social innovation organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition, the results-driven solutions our community has to our country’s most pressing social problems, and the evidence-based federal programs that are critical to scaling the impact of this work. Today we will hear from Coalition organization New Leaders about its evidence-based approach to school leadership and its positive results for school leaders and students alike.

When New Leaders launched the Aspiring Principals program 16 years ago—a program that pairs intensive training with a yearlong leadership residency under the mentorship of an experienced principal—we were among the first principal preparation programs in the country to hold ourselves publicly accountable for the student achievement outcomes of our graduates. We spent the intervening years conducting internal evaluations of our program and making improvements based on what we found. We now have strong external confirmation that our alumni principals get meaningful, measurable results for kids.

New-Leaders-Option-2A rigorous study by Mathematica found that students attending New Leader schools in Oakland Unified School District outgained similar students by four months in math and one and a half months in reading.[i] A second, quasi-experimental study by the RAND Corporation found that students who attend New Leader schools across the country outperform their peers by a statistically significant margin.[ii] Based on this study, RAND recently named New Leaders as the principal preparation program with the strongest evidence of positive impact on student achievement in the country.[iii]

These results should not come as a surprise: research has long indicated that well-prepared, well-supported principals can have an outsized, positive influence on teacher practice and student success. School leaders account for 25 percent of a school’s impact on student learning,[iv] and an above-average principal can improve student achievement by 20 percentage points.[v] Strong school leaders have a particularly pronounced effect on the lowest-performing schools:[vi] a landmark study found that there are “virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.”[vii]

Informed by this research and building on past federal investments, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), our new bipartisan federal education law, includes provisions that encourage a more intentional and energetic focus on developing strong school leaders.[viii] Through the FY 2018 appropriations process, Congress now has an important opportunity to help states and districts bring these provisions to life by adequately funding school leadership programs—specifically those that invest in proven interventions.

In particular, the School Leader Recruitment and Support Program (SLRSP) updates the School Leadership Program (SLP) to direct funds to evidence-based school leadership strategies, with a priority given to programs with a track record of improving student outcomes. In the past, SLP seeded some of the country’s most innovative and effective principal preparation programs—including New Leaders,[ix] the NYC Leadership Academy,[x] and the Relay Graduate School of Education.[xi]

New Leaders Option 1What’s more, these funds have helped to galvanize dramatic changes to the principal preparation sector as a whole. There is now broad consensus that all programs—those offered by universities as well as alternative providers—should use evidence-based practices and appropriately draw on a range of outcomes that include student achievement to assess program quality. Indeed, in response to demand from states around the country and drawing on lessons from many SLP grantees, the University Council of Educational Administration and New Leaders released a tool last year[xii] that provides guidance for states on implementing a well-designed, outcomes-focused review processes for all of their principal preparation programs. Many states have since adopted recommendations outlined in the toolkit, prompting critical changes to the way principals are trained to lead schools in hundreds of districts across the country.

Getting a well-prepared, well-supported principal in every school is a bipartisan cause, and Congress must remember that effective school leadership is critical to delivering on ESSA’s promise of local control: strong, sustained, cost-efficient implementation of school improvement strategies that get results for kids in every classroom, every year.

SLRSP is the only federal program focused specifically on investing in evidence-based, locally-driven strategies to strengthen leadership in high-need schools. As national leaders work to ensure that every federal education dollar is spent in service of students, evidence-focused programs like SLRSP are critical to achieving that goal.

About New Leaders

New Leaders is a nonprofit organization that develops dedicated, skilled leaders at every level of our education system—equipping them to elevate instruction and achievement across classrooms, schools, and districts. Since 2000, we have brought together best practices and research from the fields of business, government, and education to transform the way school principals are prepared and supported for the complex, critical job of leading schools. The New Leaders alumni community includes 2,500 innovative school leaders who annually reach 450,000 students—nearly 80 percent of whom come from low-income families and 90 percent of whom are children of color—in more than 20 cities and in partnership with districts as well as 150 charter schools across the country. Our growth and strong results for students have been fueled, in part, by a number of critical federal grants over the years.


This post is part of America Forward’s Evidence in Action blog series. Follow along on Twitter with #EvidenceinAction and catch up on the series here.


[i] Booker, K. and Thomas, J. (2014). Impacts of New Leaders on Student Achievement in Oakland. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

[ii] Gates, S., Hamilton, L., Martorell, P., et. al. (2014). Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in Ten Districts. The RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

[iii] Herman, R., Gates, S. M., Chavez-Herrerias, E. R., and Harris, M. (updated 2017). School Leadership Interventions Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: Evidence Review. The RAND Corporation. Retrieved from

[iv] Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). How leadership influences student learning: A review of research for the Learning from Leadership Project. New York, NY: The Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from

[v] Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

[vi] Seashore Louis, K., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K., & Anderson, S. (2010). Investigating the links to improved student learning. Washington, DC: Wallace Foundation. Retrieved from

[vii] Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004).

[viii] New Leaders. (2016). Prioritizing Leadership: Opportunities in ESSA for Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

[ix] In partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, New Orleans Public Schools, the New York City Department of Education, and Oakland Unified School District.

[x] Corcoran, S. P., A. E. Schwartz, and M. Weinstein, “Training Your Own: The Impact of New York City’s Aspiring Principals Program on Student Achievement,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 34, No. 2, June 1, 2012, pp. 232–253.

[xi] WestED is currently conducting a longitudinal study of Relay’s National Principals Institute Fellowship that will shed light on the impact program participants have on student achievement and school climate. Learn more here:

[xii] University Council of Educational Administration and New Leaders. (2016). State Evaluation of Principal Preparation Programs Toolkit. Retrieved from

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