Taking Stock of Principal Pipelines: What Public School Districts Report Doing and What They Want to Do to Improve School Leadership


The authors share new findings about the presence and potential importance of principal pipeline activities for preparing, hiring, supporting, and evaluating school leaders as reported by administrators from a national sample of school districts across the United States. The research on which this report is based was prompted by positive findings in a recent evaluation of the Principal Pipeline Initiative (PPI) conducted by the RAND Corporation and Policy Studies Associates. The PPI, launched by The Wallace Foundation in 2011, supported six large public school districts in implementing comprehensive, strategic efforts intended to improve the quality of school leaders over a five-year period.

Overall, the vast majority of our interview participants across districts reported that their district views principals as important and engages in some pipeline activities. That said, only about half of district respondents reported that they are satisfied with their current pool of principals. Interviewees reported some of the pipeline activities to be far more prevalent than others. In addition, our data suggest variation in what principal pipelines look like in different district contexts. The variation in prevalence of specific pipeline activities reported by our interviewees suggests that there are opportunities for districts to learn from one another. Responses from officials in small districts suggested some potential differences between small and large districts in the way principals are supervised and supported; these differences are worthy of further exploration in future research.

This study was sponsored by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

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