Publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 catalyzed widespread school improvement initiatives in the 1980s. State agencies and local communities answered the call for reform by enacting policies to tighten educational standards, strengthen professional certification requirements, and increase accountability. Concern with the effectiveness of American schooling continued, ultimately resulting in a second round of reform activities precipitated in 1989 by the Governors Education Summit. In the aftermath of that meeting, American school reform was transformed into school restructuring, a process that focused on reshaping the entire education enterprise. Throughout this period of school reform, by virtue of their roles as school managers and instructional leaders accountable for school outcomes, principals have been both agents of change and targets of change.
The ' Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) provides descriptive information about public and private school principals in the 1987-88, 1990-91, and 1993-94 school years. The integrated structure of SASS allows links between principal responses and contextual data collected from teachers, schools, and districts. Thus, SASS data are a window through which to view the changing landscape of the American public and private school principalship in the reform environment of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This report includes information about principals' sex, age, race-ethnicity, training, experience, salary and benefits, career plans, perceptions of the severity of school and school-related problems, and perceptions of their influence in establishing school policy. The following paragraphs highlight some of the findings.
Women and minorities are moving into more leadership positions. The percentage of female principals in public schools increased markedly, rising from 25 percent in the 1987-88 school year to 34 percent in 1993-94. In private schools, while there was no change during this period, the percentage of women principals remained higher than that in public schools, averaging about 52 percent. The percentage of minority principals in public schools rose from 13 percent in 1987-88 to 16 percent in 1993-94. In private schools, the percentage remained at approximately 8 percent.
In 1993-94, average salaries for male and female public school 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). White principals in public schools in 1987-88 were more likely than minority principals to receive medical insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans; by 1993-94, however, the percentages of white and minority public school principals receiving these benefits did not differ.
Salary differences between public and private school principals were 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. 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.
Significant percentages of public school principals identified a number of problems in their schools as serious. In public schools in the 1993-94 school year, poverty and lack of parent involvement were among the problems most frequently identified as serious by principals in elementary schools (17 percent and 10 percent) and secondary schools (13 percent and 20 percent). In schools with minority enrollment greater than 50 percent, however, the percentage of principals identifying these problems as serious was considerably higher (38 percent and 21 percent in elementary schools, and 36 percent and 39 percent in secondary schools) than in schools with minority enrollment less than 20 percent (9 percent and 5 percent in elementary schools, and 7 percent and 14 percent in secondary schools. Other problems, while identified as serious by smaller percentages of principals are, nonetheless, issues of concern. Weapons possession, in particular, although considered a serious problem by only 1 percent of public secondary principals in the 1993-94 school year, is extremely serious whenever it occurs in schools.
The percentages of private school principals identifying problems as serious in their schools were generally smaller than those of public school principals, with a few notable exceptions. Approximately 12 percent of private secondary principals in the 1993-94 school year cited student use of alcohol as a serious problem, approximately 9 percent cited parental alcohol/drug abuse, and approximately 7 percent cited student drug abuse. Private school principals cited each of these at rates comparable to public secondary principals.
Many other principal characteristics and descriptors changed little or were unchanged from the 1987-88 to the 1993-94 school year. For example, in 1993-94, educational administration remained the most common field of study for public school principals (66 percent of public school principals held at least one of their degrees in that field) and the second most common for private school principals (28 percent), while elementary education remained the second most common field for public school principals (39 percent) and the most common for private (32 percent). Athletic coaching remained a common prior work experience for male public school principals across school years 1987-88, 1990-91, 1993-94 (38 percent, 39 percent, and 38 percent) and for male private school principals (30 percent, 29 percent, 29 percent) and a relatively rare experience for women in either public (4 percent, 4 percent, 6 percent) or private (4 percent, 5 percent, 4 percent) schools.
The next administration of SASS, in the 1999-2000 school year, will provide an opportunity to obtain a portrait of the public and private school principalship for that time period and to examine changes in the principalship since the 1987-88 school year.