The distributed leadership experiment: First year impacts on school culture, teacher networks, and student achievement

Russell Cole, University of Pennsylvania


In 2005, the Annenberg Foundation funded the Distributed Leadership (DL) intervention in the Philadelphia School District. The DL intervention was implemented as a cluster randomized experiment where in its first year, four schools were randomly assigned to receive the treatment (professional development for a selected leadership team in addition to in school coaching) and fifteen served as a control condition. The long term goal of this program is to improve student academic achievement, contingent upon the improvement of teacher instructional practice within the classroom. This dissertation develops a theoretical framework describing the sequential nature of school improvement, according to the DL training. Through the development of schools as professional learning communities (PLCs), teachers are better able to collaborate, innovate, and obtain information to advance their teaching practices. Given the new information obtained (or co-developed) with peers, teacher practice will progress, ultimately leading to improvement in student outcomes. This dissertation empirically examines three sets of outcomes related to the goals of the DL intervention. First, using doubly multivariate repeated ANOVA, this dissertation tests whether schools that have received the DL training operate more as PLCs than schools without the treatment. Second, using social network analysis methodology, the improvement in the collaboration structures in DL schools is compared with the collaboration structures in control schools. Finally, using multilevel modeling, this dissertation tests the effectiveness of the DL intervention on improving student attendance and achievement. After the first year of the intervention, improvements were noted in PLC attributes in DL schools and the DL team members were associated with improvements in their network structures. No significant improvements were noted in network structure improvements in the school as a whole, nor were significant differences found in student outcomes. Given the sequential nature of the mechanism under which this program is expected to improve schools, where it was expected that student impacts would occur after three years, these small but positive impacts are encouraging for the long term goals of the program.

Subject Area

Educational tests & measurements|School administration

Recommended Citation

Cole, Russell, "The distributed leadership experiment: First year impacts on school culture, teacher networks, and student achievement" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3309416.