Nearly all principals serve first as teachers 1. Women comprise
well over half of the teaching workforce but hold fewer than half
of all school principalships 2. In the 1984-85 school year,
women accounted for about 68 percent of the public school
teaching workforce 3, but for only bout 21 percent of public
school principalships 4. Has this disparity persisted, or has
the gap narrowed? Is the public school experience the same as or
different from the private school experience? Is the experience
the same at different school levels? Data now available from the
National Center for Education Statistics' 1987-88 and 1990-91
Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) can be used to address these
and related questions about the proportions of school principals
who are women.
HAVE THE PROPORTIONS OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL WOMEN
Women are increasingly holding public school principalships. From
the 1984-85 school year to the 1990-91 school year, the
proportion of women public school principals increased from about
21 percent to 30 percent (table 1). This amounts to a 43 percent
increase over the 6-year time period 5.
_________________________________________________________________ TABLE 1.-- Percentage of public and private school women principals and teachers: 1984-85, 1987-88, 1990-91 _________________________________________________________________ Public Private _________________________________________________________________ PRINCIPALS 1984-85 21.4 -- 1987-88 24.6 52.2 1990-91 30.0 51.3 TEACHERS 1984-85 68.2 -- 1987-88 70.5 78.2 1990-91 71.9 77.1 _________________________________________________________________ -- Data not available. SOURCE: American Association of School Administrators, Survey of Women and Racial Minorities in School Administration. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Public School Survey, 1985; Schools and Staffing Survey, 1987-88 and 1990-91.
In private schools, the proportion of women principals remained
about the same in the 1987-88 and 1990-91 school years.
Approximately half of all principals were women in those years.
The increase in the proportion of public school women principals
for the 1990-91 school year, coupled with the static proportion
of private school women principals for the 1987-88 and 1990-91
school years, may indicate that the public-private gap is
beginning to close. However, the 1990-91 school year data show
that there are still relatively more women principals in private
schools than in public schools.
Despite the gains in the public sector, and the relatively high
proportion of women principals in the private sector, the
proportion of women principals is much smaller than the
proportion of women teachers. In both the 1987-88 and 1990-91
school years, and in both public and private schools, the
proportion of women teachers was higher than the proportion of
DID THE PROPORTION OF WOMEN PRINCIPALS IN ELEMENTARY, SECONDARY,
AND COMBINED 6 SCHOOLS CHANGE BETWEEN THE 1987-88 AND 1990-91
Between the 1987-88 and 1990-91 school years, the increase in the
proportion of women public school principals that was evident
overall (table 1), occurred in elementary and combined schools
alone (table 2). In elementary schools the increase was from
about 30 percent to 37 percent, and in combined schools the
increase was from about 22 percent to 31 percent. In secondary
schools there was no change from the 1987-88 school year to the
1990-91 school year. The proportion of women principals remained
at about 10 percent, which was lower than the proportion in
either elementary or combined schools.
_________________________________________________________________ TABLE 2.-- Percentage of public and private school women principals and teachers, by level of school: 1987-88 and 1990-91 _________________________________________________________________ Principals Teachers _________________ _________________ 1987-88 1990-91 1987-88 1990-91 _________________________________________________________________ PUBLIC Elementary 30.0 36.5 82.8 83.2 Secondary 9.4 11.0 52.1 53.2 Combined 21.6 31.2 66.6 68.3 PRIVATE Elementary 65.1 65.7 88.9 88.6 Secondary 32.3 28.9 58.6 53.3 Combined 28.2 32.7 73.2 74.7 _________________________________________________________________ SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, 1987-88 and 1990-91.
In private schools, the proportion of women principals did not
increase from the 1987-88 school year to the 1990-91 school year
in any of the three types of schools: elementary, secondary, or
combined. It remained at about two-thirds for the elementary
level and approximately one-third for both the secondary and
Even though there was no increase in these proportions for
private schools, the proportion of private elementary and
secondary school women principals in the 1990-91 school year was
still larger than the corresponding proportion of public school
In both the public and private schools, at all three school
levels, and in both the 1987-88 and 1990-91 school years, the
proportion of women principals was smaller than their proportion
as teachers. For example, in the 1990-91 school year, in public
secondary schools, about half of all teachers were women,
compared with approximately one-tenth of all principals.
These data suggest a number of questions for educational
research. Principals are often identified as key figures in
determining the quality of a school. They have traditionally come
from the teaching ranks. Why are there so few women principals
given their proportion in the teaching profession? Why are there
larger proportions of women principals in private schools than in
public schools? Are there policies and practices used in
developing and selecting school leaders that account for these
disparities? Do schools with women principals differ in any
significant ways from schools with men principals?
Such questions are not answerable by the data alone. However,
data such as those used here and gathered in SASS can help guide
research and track changes that occur over time in the schools,
and among teachers and principals.
1. Hammer, C.H, and Rohr, C.L. "Teaching, Administrative, and
Other Work Experience of Public School Principals," U.S.
Department of Education, National Center for Education
Statistics, NCES 93-452.
2. Choy, S.P., Henke, R.R., Alt, M.N.,Medrich, E.A., and
Bobbitt, S.A. SCHOOLS AND STAFFING IN THE UNITED STATES: A
STATISTICAL PROFILE, 1990-91. U.S. Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 93-146.
3. Hammer, C.H., and Batcher, M.K. THE 1985 PUBLIC SCHOOL
SURVEY: EARLY TABULATIONS. U.S. Department of Education, National
Center for Education Statistics, November 1986.
4. Jones, E.H., and Montenegro, X.P. WOMEN AND MINORITIES IN
SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION. Arlington, VA: American Association of
School Administrators, December 1985.
5. During this time period, there was a small increase in the
percentage of the public school teaching workforce who were women
(68 percent in 1984-84, 71 percent in 1987-88, and 72 percent in
6. A combined school has grades higher than the 8th and lower
than the 7th.
ISSUE BRIEFS present information on education topics of current
interest. All estimates shown are based on samples and subject to
sampling variability. All differences reported are statistically
significant at the .05 level. In the design, conduct, and data
processing of NCES surveys, efforts are made to minimize the
effects of nonsampling errors, such as item nonresponse,
measurement error, data processing error, or other systematic
This ISSUE BRIEF was prepared by Charles H. Hammer, NCES, and
Carol L. Rohr, Pinkerton Computer Consultants, Inc.