Press release

New research finds U.S. Public schools need a different model that deploys more leaders with repsonsibility for developing teachers and improving student outcomes

New research finds U.S. Public schools need a different model that deploys more leaders with repsonsibility for developing teachers and improving student outcomes

Bain & Company research concludes that schools should design and deploy a ‘management structure’ that distributes leadership responsibilities across teams of educators

  • January 13, 2016
  • min read

Press release

New research finds U.S. Public schools need a different model that deploys more leaders with repsonsibility for developing teachers and improving student outcomes


Bain & Company research concludes that schools should design and deploy a ‘management structure' that distributes leadership responsibilities across teams of educators

New York – Jan. 13, 2015 – There is broad agreement across U.S. school systems that highly effective leadership at the school level is essential to achieving great student outcomes. While many school districts are investing in programs to develop stronger principals, assistant principals (APs), and teacher-leaders, there is rarely a plan in place to deploy these people effectively. As a result, teacher development efforts are fragmented, principals are overwhelmed, and teachers lack the critical support they need to progress as educators.

These are the findings from the latest education report from Bain & Company, which builds on the firm's previous study, How to develop the next generation of transformational school leaders. Its latest research, conducted in collaboration with the Bridgespan Group and 12 school systems nationwide, Transforming Schools: How distributed leadership can create more high-performing schools, surveyed more than 4,200 teachers, APs and principals in school systems of varying sizes throughout the country. It found that the average principal in the study was directly responsible for the development of nearly 40 teachers, in addition to approximately 10 non-instructional staff. Contrast that to highly skilled professionals in other sectors who typically manage about five people on average.

Not surprisingly, this results in school principals who are overwhelmed and teachers who are not getting the career development support they need. The ensuing leadership void significantly affects how teachers view their schools and careers. Only 27 percent said they would recommend their school to others as a good place to work. Based on the Net Promoter Score© – a well-accepted measurement of loyalty – teachers scored a negative 18, which is well below their peers in higher education and worse than the majority of government workers.

The report notes that this leadership challenge, while significant, is not insurmountable. It suggests that schools with a ‘distributed leadership' model – one that distributes primary responsibility for developing instructional excellence among a team of skilled, empowered educators who have the time and authority to work closely with teachers on a day-to-day basis – increase teacher engagement and provides a far better professional development model. This leads to improved student learning, ultimately transforming the nation's schools.

"Many school systems recognize the need to reduce the leadership burden on principals," said Chris Bierly, who leads Bain's global K-12 Education Practice and co-authored the report. "In response, they have added teacher leader roles, hired instructional coaches and invested in professional development programs.  However, none of these is a substitute for a well-designed school leadership model that focuses on establishing more leaders with ‘end-to-end' responsibility for every aspect of a teacher's professional development."

In its research, Bain identified many school districts and charter management organizations (CMOs), such as Denver Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Sanger Unified School District among others, that are making meaningful progress toward deploying promising new leadership models.  While each has taken slightly different approaches, they all share five key principles for success: 

  1. Make a bet on a leadership model. Many systems have taken a pass on deciding which leadership model would be best for their schools, either because they prefer to let principals decide or they're simply daunted by the task. The most successful efforts begin with a clear view of what leadership model will work best with the goal of establishing leadership structures that are largely consistent across the system, leaving some room for local tailoring.
  2. Create and strengthen leadership capacity. The common thread across all successful leadership models is strengthening the amount and quality of leadership capacity focused on the core mission of teaching and learning.  Some systems add additional APs and teacher-leader roles, but all are focused increasing and strengthening leadership capacity with the goal of continuously improving the quality of instruction.
  3. Focus leaders on improving teaching and learning. The systems that are implementing distributed leadership models are putting more leaders closer to the front line; supporting teachers by observing and, at times, co-teaching in classrooms; providing richer and more actionable feedback on instruction; and serving as an ear and a motivating voice for teachers. These systems recognize that teaching is an incredibly tough job, not just technically but also emotionally, and are focused on providing their teachers with support and coaching from leaders who are invested in their success.
  4. Build teams with a shared mission.  An essential part of strong leadership at the front line is building great teams and creating situations where team members can share knowledge, dissect problems together and work toward common goals. The most effective leaders understand that their role is not to be all-knowing, but to inspire and build a shared commitment for great performance. Effective distributed leadership models create high-quality opportunities for teachers to work together in teams.
  5. Empower leaders with the time and authority to lead.  Having more leaders in schools with true end-to-end responsibility for teacher development is a key part of addressing the current leadership gaps.  But systems must also set those leaders up for success with both the time and authority to effectively lead a team of teachers.

"We know from our more than 40 years of work across the government, private, and non-profit sectors that most large organizations achieve success by developing leadership capacity and creating organizations that distribute responsibility for outcomes," said Bierly. "Designing such a model for schools is a major undertaking – one that requires a clear vision for how schools can best be led and a system-wide commitment to make it happen – but we believe it can be a game-changer in helping transform a typical school into an exceptional one."

Editor's Note: For a copy of the report or to schedule an interview with Chris Bierly, contact: Dan Pinkney at or +1 646 562 8102

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