In 2014, NCEE was awarded a $12 million U.S. Department of Education Validation-level Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to study a large-scale implementation of its NISL program.

The Validation-level i3 grants are highly competitive awards “aimed at validating and spreading promising programs on a state or regional scale.” NCEE’s proposal was selected on the basis of the initiative’s significance—including its ability to address “a challenge for which there is a national need for solutions that are better than the solutions currently available”—its ability to scale, the quality of the project design and management plan, and the quality of the project evaluation.

With backing from the Wallace Foundation, the i3 grant provided NCEE support to novice middle school principals across three states—California, Florida and Mississippi—between 2014 and 2019. In addition to the wide-scale impact of the support provided by the grant, the initiative also produced a study of NISL and NISL-aligned coaching.

This study, conducted by a team of external evaluators from the RAND Corporation, used a rigorous randomized control trial design, assessing the impact of the three-state effort on principals, teachers and students. Training of school leaders began in September 2015 and provided rigorous and comprehensive leadership support to the principals throughout the duration of the grant. Novice principals in all three states were provided with NCEE’s Executive Development Program and intensive leadership coaching for up to 30 months. Additionally, district staff were trained and certified to deliver the NISL program to future cohorts, ensuring sustainability and scalability beyond the life of the grant.

The scope of the study included 118 school districts and 332 schools, with 63,337 students included in the analytic sample of the study, many from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Participants also reported the training positively impacted their ability to conceptualize and lead school improvement efforts and greatly helped them to lead their schools.

NISL is now the most widely used, rigorous school leadership development program in the country with more than 12,000 school leaders trained across 27 states.