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James P. Spillane

James P. Spillane

  • Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change
  • Professor, Human Development and Social Policy
  • Professor, Learning Sciences Faculty Associate, Institute for Policy Research

Annenberg Hall Room 208 ,2120 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208
Curriculum Vitae

Research Interests

Policy implementation; educational policy; organizational change; school leadership; relations between policy and teachers’ and administrators’ practice.


James P. Spillane is the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change at the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. He is also professor of Human Development and Social Policy, professor of Learning Sciences, professor (by courtesy) of Management and Organizations, and faculty associate at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research.

Spillane has published extensively on issues of education policy, policy implementation, school reform, and school leadership. His work explores the policy implementation process at the state, district, school, and classroom levels, focusing on intergovernmental and policy-practice relations. He also studies organizational leadership and change, conceptualizing organizational leadership as a distributed practice.

Recent projects include studies of relations between organizational infrastructure and instructional advice-seeking in schools and the socialization of new school principals. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Institute of Education Sciences, Spencer Foundation, Sherwood Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

He has authored several books including Standards Deviation: How Local Schools Misunderstand Policy (Harvard University Press, 2004), Distributed Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2006), Distributed Leadership in Practice (Teachers College Press, 2011) Diagnosis and Design for School Improvement (Teachers College Press, 2011), Navigating the Principalship: Key Insights for New and Aspiring School Leaders (ASCD, 2019), and numerous journal articles and book chapters.

In recognition of his contribution to educational research, he was elected to the National Academy of Education in 2013 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.

Selected Publications

Lyle, A.M., Spillane, J.P., Haverly, C. (2023). State-level efforts to reform elementary science education. Educational Policy, 38(2), 350- 390.

Spillane, J. P., Blaushild, N. L., Neumerski, C. M., Seelig, J. L., &
Peurach, D. (2022). Striving for coherence, struggling with incoherence: A comparative study of six educational systems organizing for instruction. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 44(4), 567-592.

Haverly, C., Lyle, A. M., Spillane, J. P., Davis, E. A., & Peurach, D. J. (2022). Leading instructional improvement in elementary science: State science coordinators’ sense-making about the Next Generation Science Standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 59(9), 1575- 1606.

Spillane, J. P. & Sun, J. M. (2022). The school principal and the development of social capital in primary schools: The formative years. School Leadership & Management, 42(1), 4-23.

Spillane, J. P., Seelig, J. L., Blaushild, N., Cohen, D. K., & Peurach, D. (2019). Educational system building in a changing educational sector: Environment, organization, and the technical core. Educational Policy, 33(6), 846-881.

Cohen, D. K., Spillane, J. P., & Peurach, D. J. (2018). The dilemmas of educational reform. Educational Researcher 47(3), 204-212.

Spillane, J. P., Hopkins, M., & Sweet, T. (2018). School district educational infrastructure and change at scale: Teacher peer interactions and their beliefs about mathematics instruction. American Educational Research Journal, 55(3), 532-571.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Adhikari, S. (2018). Constructing ‘experts’ among peers: Educational infrastructure, test data, and teachers’ interactions about teaching. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 40(4), 586-612.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Sweet, T. M. (2017). The elephant in the schoolhouse: The role of propinquity in school staff interactions about teaching. Sociology of Education, 90(2), 149-171.

Spillane, J. P., Shirrell, M., & Hopkins, M. (2016). Designing and deploying a professional learning community (PLC) organizational routine: Bureaucratic and collegial structures in tandem. Les Dossiers des Sciences de lâ Education, 35, 97-122.