Publications

Refereed Journal Publications

Student attendance is increasingly recognized as an important measure of educational success, which has spurred a body of research examining the extent to which schools can affect this outcome. However, prior work almost exclusively focuses on teachers, and no studies have explicitly examined the importance of school leaders. This study begins to fill this gap by estimating principal value-added to student absences. Drawing on statewide data from Tennessee over a decade, I find that principal effects on student absences are comparable in magnitude to effects on student achievement. Moving from the 25th to 75th percentile in principal value-added decreases student absences by 1.4 instructional days and lowers the probability of chronic absenteeism by 4 percentage points. Principals have larger effects in urban and high-poverty schools, which also have the highest baseline absenteeism rates. Finally, principals who excel at decreasing student absences may not be those who excel at increasing student test scores and high-stakes accountability measures, such as supervisor ratings, fail to identify principals who decrease student absenteeism.

Nationally, 18% of principals turn over each year, yet research has not yet credibly established the effects of this turnover on student and teacher outcomes. Using statewide data from Missouri and Tennessee, this study employs a difference-in-differences model with a matched comparison group to estimate arguably causal effects. We find that principal turnover lowers school achievement in math and reading by 0.03 SD in the next year, on average. Effects vary by transition type, with larger negative effects for transfers to other schools but no or even positive later effects of demotions of (presumably lower-performing) principals. Principal turnover also increases teacher turnover, but this mechanism does not explain the drop in student test scores. Replacing an outgoing principal with an experienced, effective replacement can largely offset negative principal turnover effects.

Numerous studies document the inequitable distribution of teacher quality across schools. We focus instead on the distribution of principal quality, examining how multiple proxies for quality, including experience, teachers’ survey assessments of leaders, and rubric-based practice ratings assigned by principals’ supervisors, vary by measures of school advantage, using administrative data from Tennessee. By virtually every quality measure, we find that schools serving larger fractions of low-income students, students of color, and low-achieving students are led by less qualified, less effective principals. These patterns persist across urban, suburban, and rural settings. Both differential hiring/placement and differential turnover patterns by principal quality across school characteristics contribute to these patterns. Simulation evidence suggests that hiring and turnover vary in relative importance to principal sorting patterns according to the measure of quality examined, and that differential principal improvement across contexts may matter as well. Complementary analyses of national survey data corroborate our main results.

Research demonstrates the importance of principal effectiveness for school performance and the potentially negative effects of principal turnover. However, we have limited understanding of the factors that lead principals to leave their schools or about the relative effectiveness of those stay and turn over. We investigate the association between principal effectiveness and principal turnover using longitudinal data from Tennessee, a state that has invested in multiple measures of principal performance through its educator evaluation system. Using three measures of principal performance, we show that less effective principals are more likely to turn over, on average, though we find some evidence that the most effective principals have elevated turnover rates as well. Moreover, we demonstrate the importance of differentiating pathways out of the principalship, which vary substantially by effectiveness. Low performers are more likely to exit the education system and to be demoted to other school-level positions, while high performers are more likely to exit and to be promoted to central office positions. The link between performance and turnover suggests that prioritizing hiring or placing effective principals in schools with large numbers of low-income or low-achieving students can serve to lower principal turnover rates in high-needs environments.

Studies link principal effectiveness to lower average rates of teacher turnover. However, principals need not target retention efforts equally to all teachers. Instead, strong principals may seek to strategically influence the composition of their school’s teaching force by retaining high performers and not retaining lower performers. We investigate such strategic retention behaviors with longitudinal data from Tennessee. Using multiple measures of teacher and principal effectiveness, we document that indeed more effective principals see lower rates of teacher turnover, on average. Moreover, this lower turnover is concentrated among high-performing teachers. In contrast, turnover rates of the lowest-performing teachers, as measured by classroom observation scores, increase substantially under higher-rated principals. This pattern is more apparent in advantaged schools and schools with stable leadership.

Elected representatives’ place of residence can reveal information about their socioeconomic status, their likely social networks, and potential biases in the constituencies they represent. Using data on home addresses we collected from local elections offices, we investigate the geographic distribution of school board candidates’, including winners’, places of residence across two election cycles for 610 school districts in Ohio. We employ Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify census block group and school enrollment zones associated with each candidate’s residence. We document differences among block groups and schools with more and less school board representation, including a robust association between the relative affluence of a neighborhood and the likelihood of school board members residing in that area. We find that more citizens from affluent areas run for school board, and because a large proportion of school board elections feature minimal competition, these higher propensities to run explain disparities in representation.

Submitted Journal Publications

Exploiting variation from principal and teacher transitions over long administrative data panels in Missouri and Tennessee, we estimate the effects of principal race on the hiring and turnover of racially diverse teachers. Evidence from the two states is strikingly similar. Black principals increase the probability that a newly hired teacher is Black by 5–7 percentage points and decrease the probability that a Black teacher changes schools by 2–5 percentage points. Moreover, the presence of a Black principal makes it more likely that Black students are taught by Black teachers and increases Black students’ math achievement.

Using statewide data from Tennessee over more than a decade, this paper estimates the job performance returns to principal experience as measured by student, teacher, and principal outcomes. I find that principals improve substantially over time, evidenced by higher student achievement, higher ratings from supervisors, and lower rates of teacher turnover. However, improvement in student achievement as principals gain experience does not carry over when principals change schools. The returns to school-specific experience are largest for principals in high-poverty schools, highlighting the potential benefits of policies to improve the recruitment and retention of high-quality leaders in hard-to-staff environments.

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