Improving and Sustaining Management Practices in Public Schools

Evaluating a School Leadership and Management Training in Puerto Rico

A growing body of academic research demonstrates that improvements in school-level leadership and management have immense potential to boost student academic outcomes. In Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) was eager to provide its school principals with industry-leading management and leadership training to improve student academic achievement.

Starting in 2018, PRDE, FOS and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) joined together to design and test an intensive, large-scale training program aimed at doing just that. The research project, led by FOS Co-Director Dr. Gustavo Bobonis, would ultimately be called the Academia de Desarrollo Profesional de Educación para la Gestión del Liderazgo y la Profesionalización (EDUGESPRO).

To design the EDUGESPRO training program, researchers first conducted a territory-wide diagnostic survey of school principals to better understand the current state of school management and potential levers for change and improvement. From that survey and knowledge of best practices, the research partnership developed the EDUGESPRO training program and tested its impact through a three-year randomised controlled trial of the territory’s public school principals. The EDUGESPRO training program addressed ten dimensions of leadership and was delivered in three parts: seminars, workshops, and one-on-one coaching.

“The content of the training and the fact that it was shaped in partnership with researchers at FOS and the University of Toronto was above and beyond anything offered to principals before.”

Damarys Varela Vélez, Operations Manager, PRDE Institute for Professional Development and University Relations

In the trial, skills of principals across three cohorts were measured against standards set by the Development World Management Survey (DWMS). Principals’ skills were measured at three different points in time between academic year 2018-2019 and academic year 2021-2022.

Researchers found:

  • The training program helped close gaps in leadership skills between Puerto Rican school principals and their counterparts in the mainland United States. Among principals in the trial’s first cohort, the gap in overall management skills shrunk by 10 percent. Progress on specific measures was even larger, with the skills gap in “monitoring” shrinking by 24 percent and the skills gap in “goal-setting” shrinking by 17 percent.
  • The training program helped school principals build a “community of practice” with peers throughout the territory. The EDUGESPRO evaluation also had a qualitative component, including longitudinal surveys with participating principals, to gain a deeper understanding of why and how performance among participants varied. These qualitative surveys showed that the training program provided school principals with a unique opportunity to build a community in which they could share management successes and challenges.

The research team is currently estimating the long-term persistence of effects of the training program, as well as the short-term impacts of the training for school principals who underwent training online during the COVID-19 pandemic school closures.