December 1, 2021
Spotlight: Our Education Program
Principal Leadership has been a focus of Fry Foundation Education funding since FY2012. This is because effective principals are essential to improving principal leadership is one of the most essential strategies instruction and academic outcomes for all students. As schools navigate through pandemic recovery, effective school leaders are more important than ever. This year, the Wallace Foundation published a report analyzing two decades of research on the impact of school principals. We were not surprised to learn that the influence of school principals has been understated. Across six studies on principal effectiveness the principals’ contribution to student achievement was nearly as large as the average effects of teachers. Principals’ effects, however, are broader in scope because they are averaged over all students in a school rather than a single classroom.
So, what do the most effective principals do to ensure that all students thrive? They create a school climate for learning that is good for all students and teachers. This means that teachers and students are actively engaged in learning and feel social, emotional and physical safety. These principals develop teacher leaders who can contribute to a strong climate for learning. And they examine and address racism and historical racist practices in schools to improve the conditions for students and teachers of color, and ultimately to reduce racial opportunity gaps.
These last two points -teacher leadership and addressing racism are areas our grantees are emphasizing in their efforts to support CPS principals. As we learn from our grantees, the Education program is putting a new emphasis on supporting efforts to help principals reduce racial opportunity gaps and to develop teacher leaders. We think this will improve our supports for principals and teachers and ultimately make schools better places for students.
Addressing Racial Opportunity Gaps:
Between 2013 and 2017, Chicago Public School student outcomes improved at a rate higher than most districts in the nation. Many credit a cadre of highly effective principals that fueled student growth in these years. But despite remarkable student academic improvement across CPS, Black and Latinx students are still not reaching the same academic benchmarks as their white
and Asian American peers. And since 2018, growth in student achievement has slowed across all student groups in the District, and the gaps between racial and ethnic groups have remained. This school year, due to the pandemic, we are seeing new indicators of growing racial disparities. Black and Latinx students logged on to remote classes at lower rates than their peers. And Black and Latinx parents registered their children for pre-K and Kindergarten at much lower rates than other families. This could be a precursor to longer term achievement gaps because early childhood education is highly correlated with later student achievement.
The Fry Foundation recognizes that school principals will play critical roles in addressing historical racial opportunity gaps as well as those aggravated by the pandemic. The Fry Foundation grantees are helping principals test strategies to address these gaps by including the following approaches into their programs:
1) Incorporating high quality curriculum and instructional approaches that increase principal and teacher capacity to provide rigorous and engaging teaching and learning for Black and Latinx students. This includes strategies that address missed learning and provide culturally responsive instruction.
2) Helping principals and teachers analyze and respond to student data through a racial lens to identify opportunity gaps. This is a critical first step to identifying and eliminating existing racial opportunity gaps.
3) Helping principals and teachers work together to deepen their understanding of systemic racism and implicit bias and to build cultural competency. This is an important step to helping faculty collaborate and build common cause to address racial opportunity gaps in schools.
One example of a Fry Foundation grantee helping schools address racial opportunity gaps is the National Equity Project. The National Equity Project’s partnership with Chicago Public Schools is centered on developing school leaders with the capacity to “lead for equity” and ensure that race is not a predictor of academic outcomes. This requires principals to have a strong understanding of 1) learning science and how rigorous learning happens; 2) cultural competence and how cultural identity and views about cultural difference can influence the teaching and learning experience; 3) systems design and how school policies and structures can promote or inhibit effective learning for all students; and 4) how to lead adults in and through conversations about race, racism and implicit biases. With support from the Fry Foundation, the National Equity Project is working with the CPS Office of Equity and up to 14 CPS schools to test school improvement strategies designed to address opportunity gaps and build examples of CPS schools that are actively improving the learning experience for all students.
We have seen our strongest grantees support the development of teacher leaders. Like principals, teacher leaders are critical to the operations of an effective school. They can play a variety of roles including supporting their colleagues with mentoring and coaching; leading professional learning; serving on school leadership teams; collecting and monitoring data; and designing school policies. Teachers who want to take a leadership role in their schools are already excellent classroom instructors. But they can often benefit from training in certain areas such as facilitating adult learning, cultivating and facilitating teacher collaboration and learning communities; and leading for racial equity.
Moving forward, in addition to supporting efforts to strengthen principal leadership, we will look for programs that help CPS and school principals strengthen teacher leadership in schools across the District. We will look for programs that:
- Demonstrate strong and sustained partnerships with principals, teachers, schools, and the District
- Are aligned with best practices in teacher professional learning, which include coaching and mentoring that allows teachers to apply new knowledge and receive feedback; link teacher learning to student outcomes and to understanding how teacher leadership practices influence student learning over time; and cultivate collaborative learning, which allows new teacher leaders to learn in a supportive community
- Monitor teacher growth and examine school improvement data and student growth. Recruit and support BIPOC teacher leaders and prioritize programs serving CPS schools from historically disinvested neighborhoods and serving high numbers of low-income students of color.
Teach Plus is an example of how one Fry Foundation grantee is building the capacity of teachers to lead and support their colleagues in school-based professional learning. Teach Plus bases its training on a set of Teacher Leadership competencies that include instructional leadership, facilitation of adult learning, and use of data to monitor progress. Two years ago, Teach Plus added Equity Advocate as a fourth leadership competency. This competency focuses on how teachers understand, address and lead for racial equity in the classroom and across the school. This led a group of Teach Plus teachers to develop an online Anti-Racist Toolkit that helps teachers facilitate anti-racist professional learning. In addition to being used in CPS among Teach Plus teachers, other CPS teacher leaders are adopting this toolkit for use in their schools.
Revised Education Program Funding Guidelines:
We value the opportunity to learn from our grantees. This year -in response to what we have learned- we have adjusted our funding guidelines. This new language addresses a tighter focus on helping principals and teachers address racial opportunity gaps and our efforts to support the development of teacher leaders. We are also shifting language as we continue to improve our own understanding of how historical conditions have influenced outcomes for Chicago students. This includes replacing the term low-income with historically disinvested schools. Historically disinvested schools are schools in communities that have been neglected by governments, are often in communities that experienced redlining with restrictive real estate policies, and serve students and families disconnected from wealth creation and political power. These schools typically serve high percentages of students from families eligible for Medicaid and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Changes to previous language are in red.
 Grissom, Jason A., Anna J. Egalite, and Constance A. Lindsay. 2021. “How Principals Affect Students and Schools: A Systematic Synthesis of Two Decades of Research.” New York: The Wallace Foundation. Available at http://www.wallacefoundation.org/principalsynthesis.
 Sean F. Reardon & Rebecca Hinze-Pifer, Test Score Growth Among Chicago Public School Students, 2009-2014, Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2017
 Chicago Public Schools (2019) Success Starts Here: Five-Year Vision 2019-2024. www.cps.edu/vision
 Learning Sciences (LS) is an interdisciplinary field that works to further scientific, humanistic and critical theoretical understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations, and the improvement of instructional methodologies. Learning to Improve: How America's Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better, edited by Bryk A. S., Gomez L. M. Grunow A., and LeMahieu P. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2015