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Status of Education Reform in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Principals' Perspectives
NCES: 98025
May 1998


  • Seventy-eight percent of public school principals reported that their schools use content standards to a moderate or great extent to guide curriculum and instruction in all four core subjects: 92 percent in mathematics, 90 percent in reading/language arts, 84 percent in science, and 81 percent in history/social studies (Figure 1). Almost two-thirds of principals (64 percent) reported that their content standards in any subject changed to a moderate or great extent in the last 3 years (Figure 2).

  • About 1 in 10 public school principals reported that their schools were implementing all 10 strategies in support of comprehensive reform that were asked about on the survey. Eighty-five percent reported using strategic plans for enabling all students to achieve to high levels of performance and 84 percent reported using professional development to enable staff to teach the content students are expected to learn
    (Table 1).

  • When asked to indicate the three strategies in support of comprehensive reform for which they most needed information, 40 percent or more of public school principals reported that they needed information on the following: using innovative technologies such as the Internet and telecommunications-supported instruction that expose students to the content they are expected to learn (43 percent), professional development linked to the standards (41 percent), and parent involvement activities (40 percent) (Table 1).

  • About half of public school principals cited the following factors as barriers to the application of high standards to all students: teaching students who are at different levels (56 percent), the inadequacy of parent involvement (49 percent), and assessments that do not measure what students can do (48 percent) (Table 2).

  • Principals reported that they were likely to provide parents with a school progress report to inform parents of their expectations for student learning (88 percent); they also frequently provided an overview of the curriculum (81 percent), examples of successful student work (76 percent), and an overview of the content standards (61 percent) (Figure 6).

  • For decisions related to developing content standards for the school, similar percentages of public school principals attributed a moderate or great amount of influence to the state department of education and to local district administrators (both 86 percent), to principals and teachers at the school (85 percent), and to the local school board (69 percent) (Table 5).

  • More than 30 percent of public school principals cited the following sources as very helpful to them in understanding or using comprehensive reform strategies or activities: institutes or workshops (41 percent), other principals (33 percent), the school district (32 percent), and state- or district-sponsored education conferences (31 percent). Less frequently cited sources were the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC), U.S. Department of Education regional labs, other U.S. Department of Education offices or programs, the media, and teacher organizations (4 percent or less) (Table 4).

  • Public school principals reported that they used Title I funds for specific activities, including serving targeted children in a pullout or in-class setting (88 percent), providing extended-time learning opportunities (64 percent), operating a schoolwide program (36 percent), and providing summer learning activities (37 percent). The percentage of principals who operated schoolwide programs was higher for elementary schools (51 percent) than for middle schools (19 percent) and high schools (11 percent) (Table 7).

  • Forty-three percent of public school principals in Title I-funded schools reported familiarity with eight recent legislative changes to Title I to a moderate or great extent. More principals in schools with schoolwide programs (54 percent) than in other Title I schools (34 percent) were familiar with the eight specific provisions asked about on the survey. This finding holds true as well for each of the specific provisions, with principals with schoolwide programs more likely to report familiarity (Table 10).