Research News

New tools will help principals harness data for hiring and other decisions

iStock Teacher Effectiveness Data (file folders)

by Kurt Brobeck

The obstacles principals face in using teacher effectiveness data when making decisions regarding hiring, teacher support, and other areas of human capital management is the focus of a new Vanderbilt study.

The research is supported by a nearly half-million-dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The researchers will develop a guide and other resources to assist principals in making best use of the data, and two partner districts will implement that guide in schools over the course of the 2015-16 school year. The researchers will then track how the guide changes the principals’ approach to decision-making, and look for effects on such outcomes as whether principals were able to hire and retain more effective teachers.

In partner districts, some principals will be studied who do not receive the resources at all, to establish a control group for the research.

“Principals have access to more data than ever before, but we have really underinvested in supports for them to be able to harness those data effectively,” said Jason Grissom, assistant professor of public policy and education, at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development. “Our goal is to develop some resources to help them utilize the data they already have, and, if those resources prove useful, to make them available to other districts.”

Peabody collaborators include Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor and chair of the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations; Marisa Cannata, senior research associate; and Tim Drake, a doctoral student, in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations.

The study is based on the team’s prior research, also supported by the Gates Foundation, which found that principals often struggled to decipher which data to use for what purpose, and how to translate the information into productive changes in their schools, among other difficulties.

“This is another outstanding opportunity for researchers at Peabody and school district leaders to collaborate together to develop resources and tools for school leaders and to study the outcomes of their use before they are scaled up and implemented more widely,” said Goldring. “This is a model of research partnership that we hope to continue to refine and develop through this exciting project.”

At the conclusion of the study, the resources the team develops will be revised in response to what they learn about implementation to improve their usefulness. The collaborative development and implementation process will also generate information about how researchers and practitioners may work together on future initiatives to improve school leadership.