Key Questions

1. Which areas of principals’ work are most strongly related to classroom instruction and student achievement?

2. To what extent does principal leadership explain differences in student achievement and classroom instruction across schools, and through which processes can we discern a relationship?

3. Which processes are most effective for targeted versus whole-school efforts, in terms of principals’ effects on instruction? Are there different mediating processes through which leadership is associated with instructional differences among classrooms within schools than between schools?


Purpose: This study examines the influence of principal leadership in high schools on classroom instruction and student achievement through key organizational factors, including professional capacity, parent–community ties, and the school’s learning climate. It identifies paths through which leadership explains differences in achievement and instruction between schools and differences in instruction among teachers within the same school. Research Design: Multilevel structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships among principal leadership, school organizational structures, classroom instruction, and student grades and test gains on ACT’s Education Planning and Assessment System. Measures of principal leadership and school organizational structures were collected from teacher surveys administered to all high school teachers in Chicago Public Schools in the 2006–2007 school years. Findings: Within schools, variation in classroom instruction is associated with principal leadership through multiple pathways, the strongest of which is the quality of professional development and coherence of programs.  Between schools, differences in instruction and student achievement are associated with principal leadership only via the learning climate. This suggests that in high schools, establishing a safe, college-focused climate may be the most important leadership function for promoting achievement schoolwide.

The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(4), February 2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd./SAGE Publications, Inc., All rights reserved. © 2012