The Texas Education Leadership Lab (TELL) is uniquely focused on conducting timely and rigorous research focused on district and school leadership to help improve Texas schools. We are actively studying the principal and teacher workforce, inclusive leadership for students with disabilities and emergent bilinguals, school finance, and the impact of state and local policies on the work of district and school leaders. Our efforts to improve Texas schools does not stop when the research is complete – our team is committed to building deep partnerships, sharing information, communicating lessons learned, and advocating for evidence-based policies.

Impactful Research


District and School


Public Schools


School Districts

  • Principal and Teacher Turnover: Our study examined the extent to which principal turnover influences teacher turnover in Texas between 1999 and 2016. Teacher turnover spikes in schools experiencing leadership turnover, and these effects are greater among high-poverty and urban schools, in schools with lower levels of teacher experience, and in schools experiencing chronic principal turnover.
  • Principal Preparedness for the Pandemic: Were principals prepared for the pandemic and who were they most concerned about? Our study draws upon a national survey and highlights that schools were generally unprepared for the pandemic. Many principals were most concerned about the pandemic’s impact on students with disabilities, English learner students, students experiencing poverty, and students who were struggling.
  • Special Education in Texas: From 2014 through 2016, Texas engaged in the systematic delay and denial of special education to eligible students with disabilities. This study examines state and district special education data and describes how district leaders knowingly and unknowingly engaged in practices that harmed students with disabilities.
  • Principals, Stress, and Finding Joy: Many principals are experiencing high-levels of job-related stress, especially after the pandemic and amid a shortage of high-quality teachers. To persist on the job, principals cannot only focus on the threats and challenges. Based on our prior research and research focused on positive psychology, we highlight a set of evidenced-based practices for principals to find joy in their work.
  • Untapped Talent: An Eleven Year Analysis of the Texas Superintendent Workforce: The findings from our first report highlight the challenges and opportunities of supporting and developing the potential of our state’s
    untapped leadership talent. We are excited about sharing and translating this research with different audiences and tracking these challenges and opportunities into the future.

We believe that education research has the potential to identify critical problems and help identify solutions to improve student achievement and other important outcomes. Our research projects examine pressing issues within the state of Texas.

Professional Development

We believe district and school leaders benefit from high-quality professional development, especially when working in challenging and high-needs contexts. Our Texas-based research provides unique insights that enables our team to develop and implement professional development that is timely and relevant. Presently, our research has led to professional development with district and school leaders in Texas and across the United States on addressing principal and educator burnout, creating inclusive schools for students with disabilities, and addressing racial disproportionately in discipline and identification into special education.


We believe that the public, policymakers, and media need access to high-quality and timely education research to inform their decisions. Our research and expertise are regularly shared in national, state, and local media.


Media Appearances/Interviews

Ongoing Projects

TELL is continuously engaged in rigorous research, addressing critical issues in education and laying the foundation for transformative change. Our ongoing projects represent current TELL initiatives aimed at empowering policy decisions to create a lasting impact on the field of education.

Support Our Current Projects

TELL is currently seeking funding and support to expand our research focus on the three topics below. Your support enables our team to research Texas-specific education issues and translate our research findings into meaningful information and trainings that can improve Texas public schools.

  • Principal Retention and Job-Related Stress: We are currently seeking seed funding to transition from a pilot study of principal health that will use unique medical devices to track principal sleep and health over the course of the school year. These findings will enable us to provide recommendations to improve principal preparation, in-service training, and policies to support principal retention.
  • Where is Special Education Thriving in Texas?: As a state, Texas has been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to comply with the nation’s special education law and has made improper cuts to special education spending. However, we believe there are Texas public school districts and schools that have still managed to provide a high-quality, inclusive education to students with disabilities. We are currently seeking funding to support a longitudinal analysis of state data to identify districts and schools that are outperforming their peers in the area of special education. Findings from this study will enable us to better understand the steps district and school leaders can take to better serve students with disabilities.
  • Rural Schools Matter: As Texas becomes more urban and suburban, much of the state’s energy and efforts have shifted away from serving rural districts and schools. Yet, more than 700,000 Texas children attend rural schools and our preliminary research suggests many of these schools have high levels of principal and teacher turnover. Unfortunately, the scale of the challenges confronting these schools are not fully documented. In addition, policymakers cannot learn from rural schools that are effectively managing these challenges because these schools have yet to be identified. Findings from this study will support rural education advocacy and lead to understanding effective practices principals can take to improve teacher recruitment and retention.


David DeMatthews, Ph.D. – Founder and Lead

David DeMatthews, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Faculty Fellow and holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Special Education. Prior to arriving at UT-Austin, DeMatthews was an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.

He began his career in education working as a teacher, campus leader, and district administrator in Baltimore City Public Schools and the District of Columbia Public Schools. He has published over 150 research articles in academic journals, book chapters in edited volumes, research reports, and editorials in media outlets. 

He regularly appears as a commentator on education policy issues in regional and national media outlets. His editorials have appeared in Education Week, USA Today, The Hill, The Dallas Morning News, Baltimore Sun, and Houston Chronicle.


Alexandra Aylward, Ph.D. – Fellow

Torri Hart – Research Associate

David Knight, Ph.D. – Fellow

Pedro Reyes, Ph.D.

Julie Means-Parker M.Ed. – Research Associate

Jinseok Shin, Ph.D. – Research Fellow

If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, please contact David DeMatthews. Together, we can work towards creating a brighter future for education.