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Study Co-authored by Associate Professor Anna Egalite Selected as Co-winner of AERA Outstanding Publications Competition for an Applied Research Report

NC State College of Education Assistant Professor Anna Egalite speaks with students
Assistant Professor Anna Egalite, Ph.D. (left) speaks with NC State College of Education students.

A study co-authored by NC State College of Education Associate Professor Anna Egalite that highlights the impact of principals on student achievement has been selected as the first place co-winner of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2022 Division H Outstanding Publications Competition for an Applied Research Report. 

The award was given to Egalite and her co-authors, Jason Grissom of Vanderbilt University and Constance Lindsay of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for “How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research,” which was funded by a $463,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation. The report serves as an update to the 2004 “How Leadership Influences Student Learning” Wallace Foundation report, which found that school leadership was second only to classroom instruction in impacting student learning.

The updated study found that the impact of an effective principal is stronger and broader than previously thought and reveals that replacing a below-average principal with an above-average one is expected to yield an increase in student learning in reading and math of about three additional months. 

This suggests that cultivating high-quality school leaders could yield one of the highest returns on investment in K-12 education, Egalite said. 

“This felt like an important finding, so it’s super exciting that others felt the same way. We are thrilled that our report has been selected for this award,” Egalite said. “At the time of writing this synthesis of research on school principals, analyzing the connection between school leadership, student achievement and other outcomes in the U.S., the findings certainly seemed consequential to us, but we couldn’t predict if they would be widely disseminated or not. Writing an applied research report, our goal was to produce something that’s relevant, high-quality and has broad impact on practice and policy.”

Since it was first published in February 2021, “How Principals Affect Students and Schools” has had a significant impact on the field. 

A March 2021 letter from the Wallace Foundation to the U.S. Department of Education urged acknowledgement of the role principals play in school recovery efforts following COVID-19 closures, citing the report as a basis for their recommendations. A strategy document released by the Department of Education later that year responded to recommendations outlined in the letter, Egalite said. 

A change in the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of the term “educator” to include principals and other school leaders was also influenced by a July 2021 letter that directly cited the report, Egalite said. 

Egalite and her co-authors also shared the study with President Joe Biden’s Educational Transition Team after receiving a request from team lead Linda Darling-Hammond. Additionally, a summary of the findings was included in documents prepared for the U.S. Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee in connection with confirmation hearings for Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

“We believe these examples of our report driving policy change at the federal level meet the highest mark, in our judgment, for relevance and importance,” Egalite said. 

The report was honored in August 2021 with the 2021 Education Policy Collaborative’s Policy Product Award because of its “immediate evidence of impact,” clear focus on dissemination to key stakeholders at the state and district level and because it has already had an influence on the discourse around investment in school improvement. 

As of October 2021, the report had nearly 30,000 downloads from the Wallace Foundation website while a Wallace Foundation blog post about the study’s findings was the number one viewed post of the past year.