Key Questions

1. How much do principals affect students’ cognitive and noncognitive skill development?

2. What can districts do to strengthen the principal pipeline?

3. What policies can districts implement to raise the effectiveness of their principals?


Principals are widely seen as central to school improvement. But it is challenging to measure their impact on the development of students’ cognitive and noncognitive skills because their effects are indirect—often operating through personnel decisions, teacher mentoring, their influences on school climate, and their use of resources.

Key Findings

  • Principals had immediate influence on student learning and school culture, and they also had lasting impacts on students’ outcomes into young adulthood.
  • CPS’s principal residency program appeared to increase principal effectiveness at improving achievement in the first two years of the principalship.
  • The slow pace at which residency completers became CPS principals dampens the potential benefits of the residency program to the district.
  • CPS’s principal merit pay program led to improvements in student achievement, but there were some negative consequences for the district in terms of principal mobility.
  • Taken together, this research points to the lasting impact principals have on the lives of students, and that investments in principal training and support are likely well spent.