In Depth

Mapping Instructional Leadership

An examination of instructional leadership in principal evaluation and support systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia

While research has long demonstrated that teachers are the most important in-school factor for student learning, principals are a close second. Principals’ impact on student achievement may be indirect, but principals hire, support, develop, and retain the teachers who have a direct impact on student learning and success. Today, in addition to setting the school vision, interpreting and implementing policy, and managing the budget, principals are expected to play the role of “instructional leader.”

The education community uses the term instructional leader when describing the role of school principals, but what people actually mean when using this term, varies widely. Without a clear definition or guidance, principal instructional leadership can be—and is—interpreted in a variety of ways in the field. Principal evaluation and support systems can help provide clarity on principals’ roles and nudge them to prioritize instructional leadership if they include standards that assess and support performance in this area.

New America researched and analyzed principal evaluation and support systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in order to examine whether states are incorporating instructional leadership in their evaluation systems—specifically the state-designed or -approved principal practice evaluation instrument. Based on this research, we developed this in-depth data visualization of instructional leadership standards across states. Our research finds that while states are including instructional leadership skills and behaviors in principal evaluation systems, there is wide variation in how they are defining instructional leadership and how they are supporting implementation. This in-depth project details our methodology and reports findings from our state review.

Our accompanying report, Guiding Principals: State Efforts to Bolster Instructional Leadership, describes the prevalence of instructional leadership standards in principal evaluation systems and examines if and how states are supporting principals in developing instructional leadership skills. The report delves deeper into how states are supporting implementation of evaluation systems at the local level, and spotlights how three states—Missouri, Texas, and Minnesota—are supporting instructional leadership in practice. The report also offers key challenges and recommendations for states to advance principal instructional leadership and how best to evaluate and support these leaders in service of better teaching and learning.


Instructional Leadership Standards

Principals are expected to be instructional leaders; evaluation standards can help provide clarity on their role and responsibilities.

Instructional Leadership Across States

All states include some measure of instructional leadership, but there is variation in how it is labeled and defined in evaluation systems.

Core Components of Instructional Standards

Four core components are present across state instructional standards.

State Control Over Local Evaluation Systems

States vary in the level of control they have over LEA evaluation and support systems.

State Support of Evaluation System Implementation

We explored how states are supporting implementation of principal evaluation and support systems to build instructional leadership.


Our approach to researching and analyzing principal evaluation and support systems in all 50 states and DC.