Principal training: The missing link in effective data use in schools?

I’ve written before about the importance of building teachers skills to both analyze student performance data and to adjust instruction accordingly.

But there’s a parallel issue at play: Even if teachers enter the classroom with a baseline understanding of how to use data to improve student learning, they still need a school leader to create a culture of collaboration around the use of data. And they need support to continue to build their capacity to use the data they gather to affect student learning.

So the question must be asked: Do principal training programs prepare our future school leaders to operate in a data-rich environment?  Not surprisingly, there’s little evidence to suggest that they do. There’s little recent research on the subject, but a 2005 report by Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly that evaluated the course content of a sample of principal preparation programs found that:

  • Just two percent of 2,424 course weeks addressed accountability in the context of school management or school improvement.
  • Less than five percent included instruction on managing school improvement via data, technology, or empirical research.

The role of school leaders in promoting sound data practice is enormous. On the flip side, the failure to train principals in the critical role that data can play in school turnarounds will inevitably dull the impact of data-savvy teachers. With school reform on the tip of almost every political tongue nationwide, it’s unconscionable that we still lack coherent plans to equip school leaders to use data tools to better support teachers and students in the classroom. Principal preparation programs ought to heed the advice of visionary leaders like Paul Bambrick Santoyo of Uncommon Schools, and build upon and improve training delivered by New Leaders for New Schools. They should create a “School Leaders Toolkit for Building a Data Driven Culture,”  similar  to TNTP’s School Leaders Toolbox for human capital management. The data is there. We need a national educational culture that knows how to use it, and it can’t happen without the right leadership.


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  • mnm

    One 2005 empirical article cited…and Hess?…not exactly known for ” reliable methods”… rhetoric sure!… methods not so much! Real leaders lead the way… give it a try! If you had half a clue about what you were talking about you what realize the wallace foundation recently published a report with information contradicting much hess and kelly’s report. Yes, data it is important. Give it a try yourself!

    • Joe Siedlecki

      You are correct that the Wallace Foundation has done extensive research into school leadership.  Their recent report, The School Principal as Leader (, laid out five key functions for effective school leaders:  Shaping a vision of academic success for all students, Creating a climate hospitable to education, Cultivating leadership in others, Improving instruction, Managing people, data and processes to foster school improvement.  Wallace writes that effective school leaders use data “to promote “collaborative inquiry among teachers.” They view data as a means not only to pinpoint problems but to understand their nature and causes.”  Wallace also advocates for “providing high quality training for aspiring school principals.”  Rather than contradict my post, the report reinforces the key points:  Building the capacity of school leaders to create a culture of collaboration around the use of data is important and principal preparation programs should help build those skills in future leaders.