The principal’s role has become increasingly complex and difficult as the nature of society, political expectations, and schools as organizations have changed. Principals today can no longer simply “run a tight ship” and expect things to sail along nicely. The modern principal must become an educational leader, operating with all the skill and finesse of a successful CEO of a large corporation – but with a much smaller salary! To be effective, principals must study leadership theory and be knowledgeable of practices and behaviors that impact student achievement.
Do principals affect student achievement? We would like to think so, and common sense tells us that they do, although it may be through indirect processes. Attempting to help answer the question, I conducted an extensive study as part of my dissertation. The study examined the relative impact that principal managerial, instructional, and transformational leadership had on student achievement. The study has been published in the March 2011 NASSP Bulletin, 95:1 (pp. 5-30). The full article can be accessed online for those with a subscription to the Bulletin. Additionally, you can find a shorter discussion of the study through the “Publications” tab at the top of the page, or simply click here. I would be happy to send anyone a full copy of the dissertation if you wish.
Without using too much “researchy” language, I want to discuss the various important findings from the study over the next few weeks. First, I can say that the study very definitely answered in the affirmative. Principals DO make a difference in student achievement! Here is a quick outline of the study: 131 high schools in Missouri participated in the study. 443 teachers from those schools gave survey responses measuring their perception of the principal’s leadership skills. Those responses were then compared to the schools’ performance on the MAP, Missouri’s high-stakes annual test. Briefly, here are the highlights of the findings:
- Factors from all three leadership types – managerial, instructional, and transformational – had an impact on student achievement, leading us to believe that all three are important in developing a model of principal leadership.
- The only principal demographic variable that was linked to student achievement was education level. Even when controlling for all other factors, the education level of the principal impacted student achievement.
- While all leadership behaviors were linked to student achievement, five were significant statistically: Instructional Improvement; Curricular Improvement; Providing a Model; Identifying a Vision; and Fostering Group Goals.
I will discuss the results in more detail in future blogs, especially focusing on several areas of competence that can inform principals who wish to become more effective. But suffice it to say for now that the answer is clear. YES! Principals very definitely make a difference in their buildings. It is clear that principals who are perceived to be more competent influence student achievement in spite of school and community contexts in which they operate.