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Public and Private School Principals in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1987-88 to 1993-94 / Chapter 5

Chapter 5. Principals' Goals, Influence, and Career Plans

This chapter focuses on three separate issues that are important in understanding the principal's place in the work environments of school and district. The first of these, educational goals, provides insight into the extent to which a principal has a sense of direction and articulates that direction. The second, influence, relates to the important issue of the principal's control over critical factors that affect the school's performance. The third, plans to continue as a principal, reflects on job satisfaction, self-efficacy, and leadership continuity, all factors that affect a principal's performance and effectiveness.

The articulation of goals for schools and, especially, the ability to mobilize resources to obtain the goals are important attributes of the effective school principal (Bookbinder, 1992). The ability to identify both short- and long-term goals is one of the distinguishing elements between the beacons of brilliance and potholes of pestilence described by Goldhammer and his colleagues' (1971) study of principals. Typically, goals are described as the instructional leader's vision; and effective school leaders are said to have distinct, active, ambitious, and performance-oriented visions. Leithwood and Montgomery (1982) categorized the goals of effective principals in terms of three basic orientationstoward students, teachers, and the larger school districtwith primacy assigned to the achievement and happiness of students (p. 320). As Finn (1987, p. 21) noted, effective school leaders are intellectually and emotionally committed to meeting challenges, producing achievements, and uniting the school in shared dedication to excellence through their goals.

Producing achievements, however, requires that principals not only set meaningful goals, but that they have the influence to mobilize resources and make changes that will address their goals. Global questions about school effectiveness are essentially meaningless without further specification of the goals desired and the approaches that can be used to accomplish the goals. Thus, it is critical to assess the goals of school administrators and to have an understanding of the influence school leaders have in areas critical to accomplishing their goals.

Principals' career plans have broad implications for policy makers and planners, as well as great potential impact on day-to-day school operations. Estimates of the magnitude of the turnover vary, but most who have studied the issue agree that over half of the nation's public school principals will depart in the 1990s (Miller, 1987; National Association for Elementary School Principals, 1990; Doud, 1989). This numbers over 39,000 principals who must be replaced by new, trained administrators. Examining school administration as a career becomes important for understanding, to the extent possible, the reasons for continuation or departure. This information may be useful in reducing exiting and in improving the chances that the best candidates are recruited, hired, and sustained.

The survey method limits the depth with which the Schools and Staffing Survey can address principals' goals and influence, and many questions of interest in these areas cannot be posed in a structured format. For example, close-ended questions limit the amount of detail that can be obtained about specific local goals and limit the information that can be obtained about principals' influence directly in relation to achieving those specific goals. The survey responses, however, do provide some broad information about general goals principals view as important and their perceptions of their influence in areas related to these goals. Schools and Staffing Survey provides more complete information about principals' plans for continuing their careers as principals, which can be viewed in relation to school and principal characteristics. The following sections address these issues.

Principals' Educational Goals

Schools and Staffing Survey asks principals to choose the three educational goals they consider most important from a list of eight. The lists for the public and private principal questionnaires included the following seven items:

  • building basic literacy skills (reading, math, writing, speaking);
  • encouraging academic excellence;
  • promoting occupational or vocational skills;
  • promoting good work habits and self-discipline;
  • promoting personal growth (self-esteem, self-knowledge, etc.);
  • promoting human relations skills; and
  • promoting specific moral values.

The public principal questionniare also included the following eighth item: promoting multicultural awareness or understanding. For private principals the eighth item was as follows: fostering religious or spiritual development.

Figure 11 shows, for 1993-94, the percentage of public and private principals who rated each educational goal as first, second, or third most important. Public school principals most often selected goals related to academic performance or to personal development that supports academic performance. Specifically, 72 percent of public school principals selected building basic literacy skills as an important goal in their school, 63 percent selected encouraging academic excellence, and 58 percent selected promoting good work habits and self-discipline. Compared to those three goals, they selected goals regarding vocational skills (15 percent), moral values (6 percent), or multicultural awareness (11 percent) less frequently.

One of the goals private school principals most frequently selected as important for their school in 1993-94, fostering religious or spiritual development (61 percent), was not included in the public school principal questionnaire. Otherwise, private principals' pattern of selection was similar to that of public school principals. They, too, frequently selected goals related to academic performance (62 percent chose encouraging academic excellence, 46 percent chose building basic literacy skills), and they were even less likely than their public counterparts to choose as top goals those related to vocational skills (6 percent) or human relations skills (12 percent). Additionally, private school principals were more likely than public school principals to select promoting specific moral values as an important goal (28 percent versus 6 percent).

For 1993-94, the goals selected by principals varied by school level and community type (table A24). For example, public elementary principals were more likely than secondary principals to choose building basic literacy skills (75 percent versus 64 percent) and promoting personal growth (53 percent versus 44 percent) as one of their top three goals. Private elementary principals were also more likely than their private school counterparts in secondary schools to choose building basic literacy skills (48 percent versus 30 percent) as one of their top three goals. Public secondary principals were more likely than elementary principals to choose promoting occupational or vocational skills (30 percent versus 9 percent). Public school principals were more likely to choose promoting multicultural awareness in central city communities (17 percent) and in urban fringe/large town communities (15 percent) than they were in rural/small town communities (6 percent). On the other hand, public principals in rural/small town communities were more likely to choose promoting occupational or vocational skills (19 percent) than were their colleagues in central city communities (14 percent) or urban fringe/large town communities (10 percent).

Principals' Perception of Their Influence

Schools and Staffing Survey asked principals to rate their influence in three important activity areas: establishing curriculum, hiring new teachers, and setting discipline policy. The ratings were on a six-point scale where 1 represented no influence and 6 indicated a great deal of influence./1 Figure 12 shows the mean ratings of public and private principals for 1993-94. Overall, principals reported they had a great deal of influence in all areas, with public school principals reporting less influence in establishing curriculum (4.4) than hiring new teachers (5.3) or setting discipline policy (5.4). Compared to public school principals, principals in private schools reported more influence in establishing curriculum (5.3 versus 4.4), hiring new teachers (5.6 versus 5.3), and setting discipline policy (5.7 versus 5.4).

The high overall ratings by principals create a ceiling effect that makes detection of trends difficult. Nevertheless, comparing ratings for 1987-88 to those for 1993-94 provides some evidence of an increase in public school principal influence in two areas (table A25). Compared to 1987-88, in 1993-94 public principals reported greater influence over hiring new teachers (5.3 versus 4.9) and setting discipline policy (5.4 versus 5.1). Their ratings across the two time periods yielded no difference in establishing curriculum (4.4 for both years).

A review of the relationship between public and private principals' ratings of their influence and their demographic characteristics reveals that their ratings were about the same regardless of characteristics such as sex, race-ethnicity, and age (table A25). For example, for 1993-94, public male principals' average rating of their influence in establishing curriculum was 4.4 compared to 4.5 for public female principals, and private male principals' average rating of their influence in setting discipline policy was 5.6 compared to 5.8 for private female principals.

Examination of community characteristics also discloses mostly nonsignificant differences for public or private principals across school level, school size, and minority enrollment (table A26). For example, for 1993-94, public elementary school principals' average rating of their influence in hiring new teachers was 5.3 compared to 5.4 for public secondary principals, and private elementary principals' average rating of their influence in establishing curriculum was 5.3 compared to 5.5 for private secondary principals. For public principals, however, for each of the years 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94, ratings of their influence in one area, establishing curriculum, showed a significant inverse relationship to district size (table A26). For 1993-94, for example, principals' mean ratings of their influence in establishing curriculum were 4.7 in districts of less than 1,000 and 4.2 in districts of 10,000 or more.

Principals' Career Plans

Schools and Staffing Survey questionnaires for 1990-91 and 1993-94 asked principals to choose from five alternative responses to indicate how long they planned to remain principals. Figure 13 shows the percentage of public and private principals who selected each of the responses for 1990-91 and 1993-94. As the graph illustrates, the majority of public and private principals indicated plans to remain as principals as long as they are able or until retirement.

In 1993-94, nearly one-third of the principals in public schools planned to remain as principals as long as they are able and 23 percent planned to stay until retirement; while, among private principals, more than half planned to remain as long as able and 9 percent until retirement. Thus, private school principals in 1993-94 were more likely than public school principals to report that they will remain principals as long as they are able, but more public school principals reported plans to remain until eligible to retire. Combining these two response categories shows that, in 1993-94, 59 percent of private school principals and 55 percent of public school principals have plans to stay as principals, although the length of their intended tenure is not indicated. For the same year, relatively few public (less than 3 percent) or private (also less than 3 percent) principals indicated plans to leave as soon as possible.

A review of the relationship between public and private principals' plans to remain principals and selected school characteristics indicates that principals' plans in 1993-94 differed little across school level, minority enrollment, school size, and community type (table A27). For example, 32 percent of public elementary principals plan to remain principals as long as they are able, compared to 31 percent of public secondary principals. Rural/small town public school principals reported plans to remain principals as long as they are able (30 percent) and plans to leave as soon as possible (3 percent) at approximately the same rates as urban fringe/large town principals (33 percent, 2 percent) and central city principals (34 percent, 3 percent). Private school principals in schools of less than 150 students did not differ in their rates of reporting plans to remain principals as long as they are able (48 percent) or plans to leave as soon as possible (2 percent) from private principals in schools with 150 to 499 students (54 percent, 3 percent), schools with 500 to 749 students (46 percent, 3 percent), or schools with 750 or more students (46 percent, 2 percent).

For public principals, plans also differed little by sex, years of experience, or age (table A28). For example, for 1993-94, public male principals reported plans to remain as long as they are able (32 percent) or until eligible to retire (24 percent) at rates comparable to those for public female principals (32 percent, 22 percent). Public male principals were more likely than female principals (3 percent versus 2 percent) to report plans to leave as soon as possible. Public male principals with fewer than 3 years of experience as principals were not significantly less likely to report plans to stay until eligible to retire (20 percent) or to leave as soon as possible (3 percent) than were public male principals with 3 to 9 years of experience (24 percent, 3 percent) or those with 10 or more years of experience (26 percent, 4 percent). Similarly, public female principals with fewer than 3 years of experience reported plans to remain principals until eligible to retire (18 percent) and plans to leave as soon as possible (1 percent) at rates comparable to public female principals with 3 to 9 years of experience (22 percent, 2 percent) and those with 10 or more years of experience (25 percent, 1 percent).

With regard to age, differences in plans for public male principals are found when comparing the oldest age group to the other age groups. Although public male principals 55 years and older are no more likely than younger principals to report plans to remain as long as they are able (36 percent), they are less likely to report that they plan to stay until eligible to retire (14 percent) than are their colleagues in the 50-54 group (25 percent), 45-49 group (31 percent), or 40-44 group (22 percent)./2 The older male principals are more likely to report plans to leave as soon as possible (6 percent) than their colleagues in the 40-44 group (2 percent) and the under-35 group (1 percent). No corresponding differences with regard to age are found for female principals.


Footnotes:

[1] The 1993-94 questionnaires used a zero to five scale, and these ratings were adjusted for this analysis to be consistent with the one to six scale used in 1987-88 and 1990-91.

[2] This finding may result from principals already "eligible to retire" selecting another response because they have passed that point.



Chapter 4. Principals' Perceptions of Problems in Their SchoolsPrev Contents NextChapter 6. Summary

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