The word “landmark,” used as a modifier rather than a noun, is not one you’ll hear a lot at Wallace. In fact, we reserve it pretty much for one thing: a slim report with a nondescript cover published in 2004. At the time, we had no idea that How Leadership Influences Student Learning would go on to become the closest thing that Wallace has to a best-seller—more than 550,000 downloads to date, almost twice the number of our second-most downloaded report.
What makes How Leadership a landmark, however, is more than its popularity. Written by a team of education researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Minnesota, the report helped bring to light the importance of an overlooked factor in education—the role of the school principal. In short, it found that leadership is, in the phrase we’ve used innumerable times since the report’s publication, “second only to teaching among school influences on student success.” Moreover, the researchers wrote that there were “virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.”
Over the years, the report has served as the bedrock rationale for Wallace’s work in education. Since 2004, the foundation has invested in an array of initiatives aimed at providing excellent principals for public schools, especially those serving the least advantaged students. Wallace spending on those efforts amounted to roughly $290 million from 2006 to 2015.
In the wake of How Leadership are numerous other important Wallace-commissioned education studies, most recently a series documenting the implementation of our Principal Pipeline Initiative, in which six large school districts set out to introduce rigorous hiring, training, evaluation and other procedures to create a large corps of effective school leaders. The culminating report in that series, Building a Stronger Principalship, published in 2016, suggested that it is indeed possible for districts to do this work—to shape the kind of school leadership, that is, which How Leadership tells us is so important to the education of our nation’s children.