A study of research use in schools published in the American Educational Research Journal suggests that involved leadership is centrally important to the success of evidence-driven improvement programs.
The study followed 23 school administrators across six school districts that were implementing research-backed school improvement programs. It found that more than half showed no improvement over the 18 month study period. Districts that worked with technical assistance organizations were more likely to show growth than the others, but alone it was not sufficient to fundamentally alter district practices.
By contrast, districts were more likely to improve when leadership was directly involved. According to a review in Education Week:
In districts that successfully improved based on research, superintendents and central office staff reflected on their own practices rather than focusing only on school staff. “It’s not just any training,” Honig said. “Some bosses do professional development, but it’s not from a teaching-and-learning stance. We see again and again how powerful it is when a superintendent says, ‘Hey, this is hard, but I’m learning it with you.’ It’s such a strong signal that it sends, that the district is focused on continuous learning.”
Districts were also more likely to improve when central office staff modeled research-backed practices and connected them to specific goals. “One thing that helps people cross over is really personal feedback,” Honig said. “They all get the ideas, but it wasn’t until [research partners] observed [principals] leading and said, ‘Here is what you are doing, but here is what the research says,’ that we saw change. Districts often don’t make that kind of investment in their leaders; they are only just starting to make that kind of investment in their teachers.”