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Public and Private School Principals in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1987-88 to 1993-94 / Executive Summary

Executive Summary

Principals constitute a primary group in the school reform process, being both the agents of change by virtue of their roles as school managers and instructional leaders, and targets of change given their increased accountability for school outcomes. Small, descriptive studies have examined specific aspects of the reform process in relation to principals, and large studies have examined segments of the school administrator population in relation to specific topics. Little broad, policy-relevant research is available, however, to assess the impact of the reform movement on the principalship or to inform future policy initiatives.

The ' (NCES) Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) partially fills this void by providing descriptive information about the changing nature of the individuals who serve as principals in public and private schools, including their perceptions of challenges they face. The integrated structure of SASS enriches the information through the linkage between principal responses and contextual data collected from teachers, schools, and districts.

This report uses data from the 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94 administrations of SASS to examine the principalship in the reform environment of the late 1980s and early 1990s. For each of those years, approximately 80,000 principals served in the nation's public schools and approximately 25,000 served in private schools. Following are some of the key findings:


  • The majority of public school principals were men during 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, although the percentage of female principals in public schools increased between 1987-88 and 1993-94 from 25 to 34 percent.
  • For private schools, women constituted a clear majority (54percent) of the principals for the first time in 1993-94.
  • The percentage of minority principals in public schools increased between 1987-88 and 1993-94 from 13 to 16 percent, while the percentage of minority private school principals did not change during that time period.

Salary and Benefits

  • On average during 1993-94, public school principals earned a salary of $54,857 and private school principals earned $32,075.
  • For 1993-94, public principals were more likely than private school principals to receive benefits such as medical insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans. Only inkind benefits were more frequently available to private school principals.
  • For public schools in 1993-94, average salaries for male and female principals were similar ($54,922 for males, $54,736 for females), while average salaries for minority principals ($56,956) were higher than those for white principals ($54,466).

Education and Experience

  • Most principals hold more than one college degree, and many pursue a different field of study for each degree. Educational administration remained the predominant field of college study for public school principals in 1993-94, with over two-thirds of all principals holding a degree in that field. Additionally, more than one-third of principals held degrees in elementary education.
  • For 1993-94, public and private female principals had more experience as teachers before becoming principals than did males (13versus 10years for public school principals and 11 versus 8 years for private school principals).
  • Across school years 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, athletic coaching prior to becoming a principal remained a common experience for male principals (38 percent, 39 percent, and 38 percent) and a relatively rare experience for women (4 percent, 4 percent, and 6 percent).
  • Female principals were more likely than males to have prior experience as curriculum specialists or coordinators in 1993-94 (30 percent versus 11 percent), the first year that item appeared in SASS.

Perceptions of Serious Problems

  • For 1993-94, public and private elementary school principals identified poverty (17 percent of public school principals, 3 percent of private school principals) and lack of parent involvement (10 percent, 2 percent) relatively often as serious problems in their schools.
  • For public secondary principals in 1993-94, lack of parent involvement (selected by 20 percent of principals) ranked first on the list of serious problems facing their schools. The list also included student apathy (15 percent), poverty (13 percent), and student use of alcohol (13 percent).
  • For 1993-94, private secondary principals frequently identified three alcohol and drug-related problems as serious problems in their schools: student use of alcohol (12 percent), parent alcohol/drug abuse (9 percent), and student drug abuse (7 percent). They identified these problems at rates comparable to their public school counter-parts.
  • Although public secondary principals relatively infrequently cited student possession of weapons as a serious problem for school years 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94 (0.4 percent, 0.6 percent, and 1 percent), it is notable that by 1993-94 one of every hundred public secondary principals identified this dangerous behavior as a serious problem in their school.

Other Findings

Other findings from the study show principals' goals for their schools; their perceptions of their influence in critical areas such as establishing curriculum, hiring new teachers, and setting discipline policy; and their career continuation plans.

AcknowledgmentsPrev Contents NextChapter 1. Introduction

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education