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School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results

reviewed by Denise J. Uitto - January 12, 2006

coverTitle: School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results
Author(s): Robert J. Marzano, Timothy Waters, Brian A. McNulty
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 1416602275, Pages: 194, Year: 2005
Search for book at Amazon.com

The emphasis in all our educational practices is on research-based strategies to ensure student learning and achievement at a level mandated by federal and/or state regulations. Yet in this era of research-based practices, the authors suggest that we do not have a specific body of research that confirms the theories about leadership as they relate to educational practices for our school leaders. Our perception has been that effective school leadership promotes student learning. We must now ask ourselves two questions:  What leadership principles are we talking about? and How do we know whether what school leaders do has any impact on student learning? Researchers have utilized leadership principles from the business world to examine school leaders’ practices and the impact upon student achievement. Educational research has identified characteristics of successful school leaders but has not adequately identified the relationship between effective school leadership practices and increased student achievement. This book is designed in an easy to read format and provides valuable information for the educational practitioner to develop an understanding of what leadership characteristics are needed by school administrators and what relationship their leadership holds for student achievement.

The authors conducted a meta-analysis of educational research to determine what leadership practices at the school level translate into improved student achievement. “The term meta-analysis refers to an array of techniques for synthesizing a vast amount of research quantitatively” (p. 7). The researchers indicate that this statistical method is an objective way to tell us what research reveals about school leadership. Throughout the book, references to statistical methods are explained in layman’s terms with technical notes included in the last section of the book. The meta-analysis was completed using 35 years of 69 research studies that met a select set of conditions: involvement of K–12 students; schools within the United States or situations that reflected the culture of our schools; the relationship between the leadership practices of the building principal and student academic achievement as measured by a standardized achievement test, and state test, or a composite based on either one or both of these measures.

A review is given of major theories of leadership principles and theorists who have contributed to our understanding of leadership practices. This summary provides a brief yet comprehensive synthesis to set up the framework for the research conducted. The research conducted is explained with practical examples and figures to clarify the salient points being made. An average correlation of .25 at the .05 confidence level between school building overall leadership practices and student achievement was found through the meta-analysis. An explanation of this correlation indicates that a school principal who is above average in his leadership abilities could improve the level of student achievement over time. The authors take care to indicate that the research from their meta-analysis differs from the research conducted by Witziers, Bosker, and Kruger (2003). Wiziers et al. reported an average correlation of .02 which indicates almost no relationship between school leadership behaviors and student achievement. Several factors are given for the discrepancy between the two research studies. From a practical standpoint, it only makes good common sense that effective school principals will impact student achievement in positive ways. The research in School Leadership that Works demonstrates this correlation.

Looking at the practical application of this research, the authors examined the 69 studies to determine specific behaviors relevant to principal leadership. The authors identified 21 categories of behaviors, which they termed “responsibilities.” Each responsibility was correlated to student achievement with accompanying statistics on confidence levels, number of studies, and number of schools examined. These responsibilities are not new as they have been reported by theorists and within theories of leadership repeatedly. Some of the leadership behaviors include:

change agent—meaning the leaders’ conscious efforts to challenge current practices;

knowledge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to the extent that principals provide hands-on support to teachers at the classroom level;

optimizer in providing the inspiration needed to accomplish major innovations;

intellectual stimulation to ensure that staff are aware of current educational theories and practices;

monitoring/evaluating to provide feedback on the effectiveness of curricular, instructional, and assessment practices;

flexibility or the extent to which a leader adapts his/her behavior to current situations, and

ideals/beliefs—sharing beliefs about school, teaching, and learning, as well as modeling behaviors that mirror these beliefs.

After explaining these 21 responsibilities and giving concrete examples of behaviors, the authors describe the issue of how these responsibilities relate to each other. Using a questionnaire created to measure principals’ behaviors regarding these 21 responsibilities, they completed a factor analysis of the responses. Two factors are identified as underlying the 21 responsibilities: first-order change and second-order change. Change is a constant in education, and it seems that everyone wants to tell educators what to change and how to do it. Incremental change practices define first-order change such as reviewing the math curriculum so as to develop a curriculum map that will impact the creation of a new curriculum. Second-order change is considered deep change and involves remarkably different approaches to defining problems and creating solutions. All 21 responsibilities are necessary for leaders facilitating first-order changes; the authors found that 7 of the 21 responsibilities are critical for second-order change (see the bullet list above).

Today’s schools demand different types of leadership practices from the first-order change behaviors or management styles of the past. Schools across the country need leaders who are willing to be change agents and to challenge the status quo. The seven leadership responsibilities defined by the authors are important, but how do we get there from here? The authors discuss the selection of the “right work” or the focus on a school reform or intervention effort that will improve student achievement for all learners. The critical feature for any type of reform or intervention model will utilize the 21 leadership responsibilities and positively impact student achievement. The site-based plan proposed by the authors has five steps that begin with the development of a strong school leadership team. The school leader who practices all 21 responsibilities is rare, but a school team can adequately address all 21 responsibilities. The strategic school plan which should emerge from this school team is delineated using a process Marzano (2003) describes in his book What Works in Schools.

In all, using the research-based information offered within this book, will give school leaders an opportunity to examine their practices and leadership responsibilities with an eye to improving student learning.


Marzano, R. J. (2003) What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Witziers, B., Bosker, R. J., & Kruger, M. L. (2003). Educational leadership and student achievement: The illusive search for an association. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39(3), 398–425.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 12, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12290, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 2:36:58 AM

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About the Author
  • Denise Uitto
    Ashland University
    E-mail Author
    DENISE J. UITTO is a practicing elementary school principal in a suburban school. Her professional interests include professional development and school leadership practices. She recently completed her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Ashland University and plans to teach at the college level after retiring from the public school system. =Her dissertation is entitled: Professional Development Standards: Implementation and Challenges in Selected Ohio Schools.
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