Public and Private School Principals in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1987-88 to 1993-94 / Chapter 3

Chapter 3. Training and Educational Experiences of Principals

Most states require public school principals (and, in some states, private school principals) to have training in educational administration from state-approved programs, which often leads to a master's or other advanced degree in educational administration. The approved programs, however, have been criticized in recent years (e.g., Hodgkinson, 1992; Marshall, Rogers, & Steele, 1993; Smith & Greene, 1990). Principals have been among the harshest critics. For example, as Miller (1987) has reported, principals have argued that their specified academic preparation was inadequate and unrelated to the realities of their jobs. In fact, the most important element of training identified by these individuals was unrelated to the formal curriculum at all. As these current principals pointed out, their teaching experience and their on-the-job experience as principals provided the best training (Miller, 1987). The assistant principalship often serves as the training and orientation for prospective principals. Unfortunately, this position usually pulls administrators away from an orientation to instruction and attunes them to political, bureaucratic, and managerial functions (Marshall, 1989, 1992; Greenfield, 1985; Greenfield, Marshall, & Reed, 1986).

Proposed revisions to administrator preparation programs have been frequent. Some researchers suggest that advanced degrees in curriculum and instruction (Smith & Greene, 1990) or in a substantive area besides education be prerequisites for training in educational administration. The National Association of Elementary School Principals' report, Principals for the 21st Century, identified several building blocks for administrator training programs. The group's suggestions included less generic preparation for administrators in favor of other approaches that address the specific challenges of principals in particular schools, replacement of the existing principal internship with experiences that provide more practical job-related activities, and additional training in effective instructional and school practices (e.g., vision, communication strategies, evaluation, and instructional development).

This chapter examines the preparation of principals. Schools and Staffing Survey questions related to this issue focus mainly on formal education but also include items on internships, inservice training, and prior educational experiences, which researchers have highlighted as important preparatory factors for administrators. The data available through SASS also allow examination of principals' education levels, professional experiences, academic disciplines, and training in relation to various community, school, and demographic characteristics. Looking at changes across the three survey years provides some indication of the impact of reform initiatives directed toward preparing principals as instructional experts and leaders. The chapter is organized under three areas: education and training, field of study for degree programs, and prior experience in education.

Formal Education and Training

In 1993-94, almost two-thirds of public school principals held master's degrees as their highest degree and slightly over one-third were educated at a post-master's level (i.e., education specialist/professional diploma or doctorate). Figure 6 displays the percentage of principals at each education level for the three survey years. As the graphic shows, the percentage of principals in public schools with the master's as their highest degree increased from 53 percent in 1987-88 to 63 percent in 1993-94, while the percentage of principals with doctorates remained essentially unchanged for those two years. The increase in the percentage of public school principals with master's degrees appears to be related to a decline in education specialist degrees and professional diplomas. The percentage of principals with those degrees, which require at least one year of training beyond the master's degree, decreased from 35 in 1987-88 to 26 in 1993-94.

One factor contributing to this change may be the lack of financial rewards for post-master's training below the doctorate level. In 1993-94, public school principals with education specialist degrees and professional diplomas earned an average of $55,383 annually, which was only slightly more than those with master's degrees, who averaged $53,959 (table A8). The financial incentives associated with earning a doctorate were higher, however, as principals with doctorates earned an average of $61,545.

The education levels of public school principals were similar for different community and school types (table A11). Also, as shown in figure 7, public secondary and elementary principals were nearly equally likely to hold master's degrees (63 percent versus 64 percent) and doctorates (10 percent versus 9 percent).

Differences are apparent between the education level of public and private school principals in 1993-94, as figure 7 illustrates. At the elementary school principals held a bachelor's as their highest degree; 26 percent of private elementary principals held a bachelor's as their highest degree. Additionally, approximately one in three public elementary principals and one in eight private elementary principals completed education above the master's level. At the secondary level, the percentages of public and private principals holding master's degrees and doctorates were comparable. For example, in 1993-94, 63 percent of public secondary principals and 67 percent of private secondary principals held a master's as their highest degree, while 10 percent of public and 12 percent of private secondary principals held doctorates. Differences are apparent, however, in the percentage of principals who completed an education specialist degree or held a professional diploma (25 percent for public and 14 percent for private).

Salary differences between public and private school principals across education levels are also apparent. In 1993-94, private school principals with doctorates earned an average annual salary of $51,190, which was $10,355 less than comparable public school principals (table A8). Those with master's degrees averaged $34,789, or $19,170 less than their public counterparts, and those with bachelor's degrees averaged $24,249 or $17,359 less.

Inservice Training in Administration

In 1993-94, 39 percent of public school principals indicated that, prior to becoming a principal, they had participated in a district or school program for aspiring principals, 86 percent indicated that they had received in-service training in evaluation and supervision, 75 percent had received training in management techniques, and 41 percent had participated in an administrative internship aside from course work for a degree (table A13). For 1993-94, the percentage of private school principals who reported having had aspiring principals training (38 percent) was approximately the same as public principals. Private school principals, however, were less likely to report training in evaluation and supervision (65 percent), training in management techniques (58 percent), and participation in an administrative internship (22 percent).

For public schools in 1993-94, noteworthy variations existed in the percentage of principals who participated in training when viewed in relation to principal and school characteristics (table A13). For example, for 1993-94, more female public principals than male public principals reported having participated in a program for aspiring principals (45 percent versus 36 percent) and in an administrative internship (46 percent versus 39 percent). A contrast is also found for that same year when comparing minority and white public school principal participation in aspiring principals training (58 percent versus 35 percent). With regard to school characteristics, for 1993-94, public principals in central city and urban fringe/large town communities were more likely than principals in rural/small town communities to have participated in an aspiring principals program (52 percent, 43 percent, and 30 percent, respectively).

Field of Study

As figure 8 illustrates, for 1993-94, educational administration remained the predominant field of study for public school principals./1 For each of the school years 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, approximately two-thirds of all principals held a degree in that field. Many principals also held degrees in elementary education (39 percent in 1993-94). Overall, few changes were apparent in public school principals' fields of study for the 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94 school years (table A14).

A number of differences can be found between the educational backgrounds of male and female public principals. For 1993-94, 71 percent of male principals and 58 percent of female principals had degrees in educational administration (table A14). Public female principals were as likely to hold degrees in elementary education (58 percent) as in educational administration, and a smaller percentage of male (29 percent) than female principals held elementary education degrees. For 1993-94 in public schools, men were more likely than women to hold degrees in physical education (14 percent versus 3 percent) and more likely to hold degrees in social studies (10 percent versus 3 percent). On the other hand, women were more likely than men to report a degree in special education (11 percent versus 4 percent).

For 1993-94, private school principals were considerably less likely than their public counterparts to have academic backgrounds in educational administration, with less than 30 percent reporting such degrees (figure 8). Private female principals were more likely to report degrees in elementary education (45 percent for 1993-94) than in educational administration (27 percent); and, for 1993-94, private male principals were as likely to have backgrounds in subject area education (30 percent) as in educational administration (31 percent) (table A14).

Prior Experience in Education

Not surprising, nearly every principal was a classroom teacher before becoming a principal. Principals in private schools were less likely to have teaching experience than those in public schools, but the overall percentage of both public (99 percent) and private (88 percent) principals with teaching experience remained high in 1993-94 (figure 9).

Across school years 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, athletic coaching remained a common experience for male principals (38 percent, 39 percent, and 38 percent in public schools in 1993-94; 30 percent, 29 percent, and 29 percent in private schools) and a relatively rare experience for women (4 percent, 4 percent, and 6 percent in public schools in 1993-94; 4 percent, 5 percent, and 4 percent in private schools) (table A15). On the other hand, female principals in public schools were more likely to have experience as curriculum specialists or coordinators compared to male principals (30 percent versus 11 percent) as were female principals in private schools (16 percent versus 10 percent) in 1993-94, the first year that item appeared in SASS.

Also of particular relevance in regard to experience are the number of years of teaching principals have prior to becoming principals and the number of years they have been principals. Overall, the average years of teaching is substantial and seems more than adequate to provide the hands-on instructional foundation most observers believe principals should have (figure 10). For public school principals, the average years of experience as teachers increased slightly from 10 in 1987-88 to 11 in 1993-94, and the average years on the job as principals decreased slightly over the six years (from 10 to 9) (table A16). Private school principals showed no changes overall between 1987-88 and 1993-94 in teaching experience, but exhibited a slight increase in average years as principals (from 8 to 9 years).

A focus on sex and race-ethnicity of principals provides some interesting contrasts. Figure 10 shows that, in 1993-94, public female principals had more experience as teachers before becoming principals than did males (13 versus 10 years). Similarly, private female principals had more teaching experience than their male colleagues (11 versus 8 years). Public female principals in 1993-94 had been in that position for fewer years than their male counterparts (6 versus 10). For public schools in 1993-94, a difference was also apparent in white principals' average teaching experience (11 years) compared to minority principals in general (12 years) and black principals in particular (13 years) (table A16).


[1] SASS provides information about principals field of study for each earned degree, including education specialist degrees and professional diplomas that represent at least one year of post-masters study. Because most principals hold more than one degree and may pursue a different field of study for each degree, many principals provided multiple responses to the field-of-study items on the principal questionnaires. Thus the field of study variable is most appropriately analyzed using a duplicated principal count that captures all fields of study across all degrees held. Figure 8 and table A14 show the percentage of public and private school principals who pursued each listed field of study for one or more of their degrees.

Chapter 2. Demographics of the PrincipalshipPrev Contents NextChapter 4. Principals' Perceptions of Problems in Their Schools