No Independent Research

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence on The Leader in Me Website saying that this program works.  It’s filled with videos and quotes from teachers, parents, and principals who talk about how much they love the program and what an incredible difference it made at their school.

But if you look carefully, you will notice the following:

  • No 3rd party studies or research has been done to show The Leader in Me really improves academic performance and reduces disciplinary problems.
  • With each anecdote you read, you can easily think of many causes that would bring about the reported results – the cause and effect between The Leader in Me and the school’s improvements are never proven, and in many cases are hardly even mentioned.
  • No one considers at all whether or not The Leader in Me program causes any harm.  Only a true 3rd party review would accomplish that goal.  And I expect that analysis to happen before a new program is brought into my child’s school.

Promising Results

The first link on the “What are the Results?” page is called Promising Results. This PDF was written by David Hatch, who works for FranklinCovey Eduction.  It is purely anecdotal (though it includes numbers and graphs to give the impression that it is factual and quantitative even though it’s not), and it does not prove a connection between the Leader in Me and improved academic achievement, or reduced behavioral issues.  Here are just 3 examples of the kind of “data” in this document:

Winchester Elementary, West Seneca, New York. At Winchester Elementary, the school is ranked annually against 225 other schools in Western New York. The ranking is weighted 50% on Math and 50% on English Language Arts (ELA) scores. For six years (2005 to 2010) the highest rank the school achieved was 50th. In 2011, following the first year of Leader in Me implementation, the school jumped to 33rd in rank.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Rank (255 schools) 104 88 52 50 57 57 33

At face value, those numbers look great!  The text which says “following the first year of Leader In Me implementation, the school jumped to 33rd in rank” really makes you think The Leader in Me caused a big jump – from 50 to 33!  But look at what was happening before that.  In the years leading up to 2011, the school had already moved up from 104 to 57 – a significant improvement.  It seems much more likely that what they started doing in 2005 was making more of a difference than one year of The Leader in Me, but Franklin Covey took credit for that year anyway.

Dewey Elementary, Quincy, Illinois. Parents and teachers at Dewey Elementary were delighted to see the following rise in Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) scores for reading and math:

Before 7 Habits (8 year average)

First year after 7 Habits

Second year after 7 Habits









It sure looks good, but comparing an 8 year average to a single year’s performance isn’t meaningful in any way, and wouldn’t stand up with any scientist or statistician anywhere.  The school could easily have been showing steady improvement already in the 8 years before the 7 Habits were introduced.  In fact, a 64.5% average over 8 years can be accomplished with the following scores: 50%, 53%, 57%, 58%, 61%, 72%, 80%, 85%.  See how by not including the data, it’s possible to make up any possible reason for the school hitting 89%?  Maybe it was Leader in Me?  Or maybe it was a any number of other changes the school was making in the previous 8 years that showed a steady progression to 89%.

Sulphur Springs Elementary, Tampa, Florida. Dr. Christi Chandler Buell, Principal, and former Leonard Miller Principal Leadership Award Gold Medallion Finalist, reported being absolutely delighted that 99% of the fourth grade students at the school scored four or above on the year’s FCAT writing exam. The state average was 80% and the district was 89%. The school is 100% free/reduced lunch (highest % in the district for elementary schools).

Notice that in this one, Leader in Me isn’t even mentioned.  Maybe the Leader in Me program caused that 99%.  Or maybe the school always performs that high, but the Covey Institute chose not to mention that fact.  Or maybe the Covey Institute wanted a chance to slip in the words “Leadership Award Gold Medallion Finalist”, though that principal’s award has nothing to do with The Leader in Me . Or maybe the Covey Institute wanted to imply that The Leader in Me works even for schools with 100% free/reduced lunch.  I wonder if The Covey Institute is simply taking credit for school successes that really have nothing to do with the The Leader in Me.  It’s impossible to know, but easy to wonder about when you start looking at all that anecdotal evidence with a critical eye.

Johns Hopkins University Case Study

The only 3rd Party study about The Leader in Me was conducted by Johns Hopkins. It definitely is not a scientific study showing that the program is effective.

Here is a summary of the problems with this study:

  • It included 2 schools.  There is no statistical relevance in 2 schools.  It says right in the study:  “Given that the case studies involved only two, somewhat selective schools, the generalizability of these interpretations to other TLIM schools needs to be viewed cautiously.”
  • This study was qualitative, not quantitative.  From the study: “The major purpose of the evaluation study was to assess implementation progress and activities with regard to the experiences and reactions of teachers, students, school administrators, and other key stakeholders (e.g., community leaders and business partners). A replicated qualitative case study design was employed in two schools”
  • The Evaluation questions were about how the program was implemented, not about whether or not it works.  From the study, here are the 5 Evaluation Questions they were trying to answer:
  1. How is TLIM being used by teachers, administrators, and students at each school with regard to program-specific activities, classroom instruction, and school events in general?
  2. What are the main components of program implementation at each school?
  3. What are the following major participants’/stakeholders’ perceptions regarding the program’s value impacts on students’ life skills, behavior, and academic achievement and transfer of benefits to the home and community?
  4. What are trends in student achievement in reading/language arts (R/LA) and mathematics before and after program adoption?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the program implementation, and recommendations for improvement?
  • The study mentions that both schools have principals with strong leadership skills.  It should be considered that any positive impacts observed were because of those principals, rather than LIM. From the study “At both of the case study schools, strong principal support and leadership skills appeared to be a critical factor in ensuring fidelity of implementation. We suspect that under weaker, less involved principal leadership, implementation and sustainability of TLIM would face much greater challenges.”

4 thoughts on “No Independent Research

  1. I’m reading the study now and will respond with comments on it shortly. But first, I looked up the I Am A Leader Foundation. The Who Are We page lists the CEO as E. Boyd Craig, and the very first thing his bio says is “For nearly a quarter century, Boyd Craig served as partner to the late Stephen R. Covey, renowned leadership authority, speaker, and author of the international bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He collaborated with Dr. Covey in the development, writing, editing, and/or publishing of a dozen books and scores of articles on leadership and ran his global speaking and consulting business. In addition to serving as head of FranklinCovey Co.’s Stephen R. Covey Group, Boyd became one of the architects and leaders of its education practice and served as vice president of higher education.”.

    Here is link to his bio on the I Am A Leader Foundation website:

    I’m already pretty skeptical about how “independent” this research is.

  2. as one who has spent years attempting to derive meaning from studies i find it amazing anyone would invest without proper investigation which clearly hasn’t been done to date.

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