NISL Improves Math and Reading Achievement in Milwaukee Public Schools

June 10, 2016

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A new, three-year randomized control study of Milwaukee (WI) Public Schools from Johns Hopkins and Old Dominion Universities has found that students in schools led by principals who graduated from the National Institute for School Leadership’s (NISL) Executive Development Program (EDP) outperformed their peers in math and literacy on state assessments. NISL is a program of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

The researchers estimated that in the 24 schools studied with NISL-trained principals, 377 more students achieved math proficiency and 289 more achieved reading proficiency than comparable peers.

The NISL EDP is now the most widely used school leadership development program in the country with more than 10,000 school leaders trained across 27 states. Based on research from the top performing education systems around the world, the NISL school leadership training is cohort-based, is conducted both in-person and online, and uses state-of-the-art adult learning strategies bringing problems from practice into the 18-month experience.

The Milwaukee study compared 24 schools led by NISL-graduate principals to 42 comparison schools led by non-NISL graduates from 2010 to 2014. NISL-trained principals led schools with more challenged student populations than the comparison schools including higher percentages of English Language Learners, students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and students with special needs. These schools also had higher percentages of Hispanic students and lower percentages of Asian and White students. Most striking, NISL-trained principals led schools whose students started with lower levels of proficiency in both math and reading prior to the training their principals received from NISL, but caught up to and surpassed the comparison schools as a result of the NISL EDP.

Under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states and districts have new opportunities to use federal funds to improve school leadership. The Milwaukee results provide further confirmation that the NISL EDP meets the standards of evidence required for ESSA funding. A recent report from RAND Corporation, based on prior studies of the EDP cited the program as the sole “Professional Learning Activity for Principals” found to increase student achievement and meet the ESSA’s stringent, tiered evidence requirements. According to the report, this makes NISL the only current source of principal professional learning eligible for Title I funding because it has shown that it improves student learning.

“The positive impact on student learning in Milwaukee is yet another validation that investing in school leaders gets results,” said NISL CEO, Jason Dougal. “Even in the most challenging educational settings, our internationally benchmarked curriculum is making a real difference for school leaders, teachers and students across the country. It’s scalable, affordable and research-proven. The development of school leaders that can drive an agenda based on what we know works from top performing systems around the world is one of the best investments a school system can make.”

The new findings from Milwaukee confirm two earlier studies by independent evaluators of schools in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts that found the National Institute of School Leadership’s Executive Development Program boosted student achievement in those states at a fraction of the cost of competitor programs—as little as $5,250 per school.

As a result of NISL’s track record of success across the country, the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded NISL nearly $23 million in competitive grants, supporting the development of over 1,500 school leaders in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Mississippi.

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The National Institute for School Leadership provides research-proven executive development programs for educators using the best practices in adult learning from a variety of fields, including education, the military, business, law, and medicine. NISL builds the capacity of districts and states to provide education leaders with the critical knowledge and skills they need to be instructional leaders and improve student achievement in their schools based on lessons from top performing education systems. NISL is a program of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Visit NISL at for more.

The National Center on Education and the Economy was created in 1988 to analyze the implications of changes in the international economy for American education, formulate an agenda for American education based on that analysis and seek wherever possible to accomplish that agenda through policy change and development of the resources educators would need to carry it out. Follow NCEE on Twitter @CtrEdEcon and on Facebook or visit for more.