Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Jack Leonard

Second Advisor

Wenfan Yan

Third Advisor

Robert Sperber


The achievement gap has important consequences and poses a serious threat to the prosperity of this country. Many scholars have studied this issue, but there is no consensus on its causes or solutions. However, there is evidence that some schools, including Catholic schools, are closing this gap. In addition, there is evidence that principal leadership can affect student achievement. This study looked at the correlation between principal leadership and student achievement, growth, and the achievement gap in Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. The theory used to define principal leadership was transformational leadership. Transformational leaders are characterized by charisma, high expectations, a focus on the bigger picture, and the ability to listen and respect others. The conceptual framework for this study explored the relationship between transformational leadership and student achievement, specifically through the cascading effect of leadership - impacting school culture and therefore effective teaching.

This study was a sequential mixed-methods case study including 84 Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. Transformational leadership style was measured using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). Achievement data was drawn from Stanford 10 summative assessment for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. In addition, demographic data from the Catholic Schools Office was utilized. Quantitative methods included correlations, t-tests, and regressions to examine the association between leadership and achievement. Based on the quantitative analysis, eight interviews were conducted with principals who exhibited high transformational leadership and led schools with a range of student achievement and growth. These interviews illuminated the quantitative findings and provided rich data on leadership in Catholic schools.

Quantitative results indicated that Catholic school leaders exhibited higher levels of transformational leadership than their national peers. However, there were few statistically significant correlations between transformational leadership and student achievement and growth. Qualitative analysis further illuminated the relationship between Catholic school leadership and transformational leadership. Several themes ran throughout the qualitative data, including an emphasis on interactions with parents and students, the development of teacher leaders, and a lack of connection of leadership to student achievement and growth. In addition, there was evidence that transformational leadership and Catholicism are deeply entwined in Catholic school principals, so much so that it is difficult to separate them. The Catholic school perspective of this study, in addition to the mixed-methods research design, adds to the literature concerning school leadership.


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