Evaluating the Impact of Teacher Leadership Development:
Highlights from an objective analysis by the RAND Corporation
Teacher leaders are skilled educators who support and develop their colleagues toward school-wide success. Many professional development efforts focus on novice teachers, with professional development for mid-career teachers varying widely in scope and quality. As shown in the recently released TNTP study “The Mirage,”1 this lack of rigor can result in funding ineffective development efforts at great cost. To help address this gap, the RAND Corporation is conducting a rigorous multi-year evaluation of Leading Educators’ impact on the development of teacher leadership, student achievement, and teacher retention.
Leading Educators is a national nonprofit organization that develops teacher leaders’ adult leadership and management skills in customized partnerships with school systems and in a two-year Fellowship program. Since its 2011 launch in New Orleans, Leading Educators has expanded its two-year Fellowship to Kansas City, Memphis, and Washington, D.C. Leading Educators has partnered with 155 schools, directly training 304 Fellows who have mentored and led roughly 2,430 teachers, impacting a total of approximately 69,920 students. The Fellows engage in professional development sessions, receive one-on-one leadership coaching, and get support from within their cohorts.
The first stage of the analysis examines data from the Leading Educators Fellowships in Kansas City and New Orleans from 2011 – 2014. The analysis uses quasi-experimental methods to compare the performance of teacher leaders in the Fellowship and the teachers they mentor to comparable teachers in the state. These early results included Fellows midway through the two-year program, so should be viewed as preliminary and not exhibiting the full effects of graduating from the program.
Early results suggest that the Leading Educators Fellowship improves leadership skills in Fellows and shows promise in positively impacting student achievement and retaining teachers in high-poverty schools. The key findings include:
- Teacher leaders across all cohorts and both regions showed statistically significant leadership skill growth.
- Leading Educators Fellows who taught mathematics in New Orleans had a statistically significant, positive effect on student achievement, and the effect size was nearly three times that of attending a highly effective urban charter school.
- Teachers mentored by Leading Educators Fellows (Mentees) had a positive impact on student mathematics and social studies achievement in New Orleans.
- Leading Educators Fellows have remained in high-poverty schools at rates that were higher than or comparable to that of other teachers in the district.
RAND found that teacher leaders grew in their leadership skills over the course of the two years of the program. This was measured by a 360° evaluation completed three times during the Fellowship by principals and colleagues of Fellows as well as the Fellows themselves. The competencies assessed fall within four strands: 1) Core Beliefs and Mindsets, 2) Management of Self and Others, 3) Cultural Leadership, and 4) Instructional Leadership. RAND found substantial and statistically significant improvement in leadership skills. These findings were consistent across all cohorts and regions analyzed.
The report examined the impact of the program on student achievement for students taught directly by Fellows and students taught by Mentees. To build a robust picture of the program’s effects on student achievement gains, the report compares the results of three rigorous modeling specifications. The use of these models allows researchers to control for potential selection biases of the Fellowship’s rigorous entrance requirements, as well as other potential sources of bias.
The most promising results were the program’s impact on math scores for students of Fellows in Louisiana. All three analytic models applied by the RAND Corporation confirmed sizable positive, statistically significant impacts on math achievement. However, the small sample size used in these models limits the conclusions we can draw from these results. Additionally, findings on student achievement impact in other content areas were mixed, though in many cases were positive in two of the three models used. Future iterations of this study will likely demonstrate more conclusive results due to an increased sample size.
The study also found that the Leading Educators Fellowship had a positive and significant impact on student achievement in social studies and math for teachers who were mentored by Fellows in Louisiana. Two models were used to understand the impact on student achievement for mentored teachers. These results suggest having a Leading Educators Fellow as a mentor would result in a two or three percentile gain for students within a single year.
While a regression analysis on the impact of the program on retention for Fellows could not yet be conducted due to small sample sizes, descriptive statistics are promising in high-poverty settings. Leading Educators Fellows stay in high-poverty schools at rates between 10 and 29 percent higher than the district average. Due to limitations in the Louisiana dataset, if teacher leaders were promoted to out-of-the-classroom roles such as a principal or coach, they no longer appeared in the data. Leading Educators internal survey data suggests promotions are fairly common; on Leading Educators' 2014 annual survey, 46% of Fellows reported receiving a promotion in the previous school year. (n=129) Thus, the study may underestimate the impact of retention on Leading Educator Fellows in New Orleans. Likewise, retention data in New Orleans may also be impacted by school restructuring since Hurricane Katrina. Over the last five years, the Recovery School District closed 25 schools, opened 23 new schools, and changed the codes of 21 schools in New Orleans.2
With the RAND report, we have learned that our programming is helping teacher leaders make a positive and significant impact on their students and colleagues. At the same time, given that impact is not consistent across all subjects and all regions, the study will help us to prioritize the subject-specific and regionally specific skills to further strengthen our programming.
The RAND report also leads us consider important structural shifts for systems to make to ensure the success of their teacher leaders. The analysis shows that Leading Educators Fellows in both Kansas City and New Orleans, and in both district and charter schools, acquired key leadership skills. Improvement in student achievement, however, is also dependent on teacher leaders having the leadership responsibility and autonomy to implement these acquired skills. For Leading Educators, one of the key takeaways of the study is the importance of developing effective teacher roles across different schools and systems. Teacher leaders must have the voice and flexibility to succeed in applying the skills Leading Educators helps them develop. Increasing teacher leaders’ autonomy may also improve teacher recruitment and retention — particularly in high-poverty schools. This study underscores the notion that investing in teacher development, increasing teachers’ responsibilities, and providing teachers with the support to have agency in school-wide improvement, are of value.
# Footnotes #
1 TNTP. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about our Quest for Teacher Development.
2 Ferguson, Barbara. (2014). Closing Schools, Opening Schools, and Changing School Codes: Instability in the Recovery School District.