Research on school effectiveness has concluded that strong administrative leadership makes a difference in student learning. However, the relationship between the principal’s role and student achievement is a complex one. During the last 15 years researchers have been studying this relationship to determine how a principal’s actions can lead to increased student achievement. Philip Hallinger, Peabody College, and Ronald H. Heck, University of Hawaii, review this cumulative research and conclude that principal leadership affects student performance indirectly. These studies reveal that principals make a difference by influencing internal school processes that are directly linked to student learning. These include such factors as academic learning time, school climate, teacher expectations, school mission and instructional organization.
Hallinger and Heck report that recent studies using increasingly sophisticated theoretical models, stronger research designs and more powerful statistical methods yield more positive findings concerning the role of the principal in school effectiveness. Most important is the setting of school goals through which the principal sustains a school-wide purpose focused on student learning. The fact that a principal’s influence on school achievement appears to be indirect does not imply that it is less important. One study reported that, on average, the principal as a variable accounted for between two and eight percent of the variance in test scores. Although this may seem small, research indicates that even small proportions of variance are important. For example, only about 15 percent of the total variance in student achievement is attributable to school differences. The two to eight percent attributable to differences in principal leadership is a significant portion of this total school effect.
“Reassessing the Principal’s Role in School Effectiveness: A Review of Empirical Research, 1980-1995”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Volume 32, Number 1, February 1996 pp. 5-44