Principals Have More to Do, Less Power

Is there more to being a school principal than prowling school corridors, checking in on classrooms, and disciplining kids who act up? It's all this and plenty more, according to a survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Principals are busier than they ever have been, with more responsibilities, including outside activities like fund-raising. At the same time, they are being held more accountable for things like standardized test scores and student performance, according to this year's study, the seventh in a series conducted every 10 years by the organization.

"Principals seem to be saying they have more opportunity to be part of the hiring process, to be part of budget decisions, and they have a more- direct role in management of schools at local levels," says James Doud, a co-author of the study and chair of the department of educational leadership at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "At the same time, there is a huge push toward accountability and mandating standards."

Adding to these challenges is the problem of carrying out decisions. The study found that although principals have an increased role in the process of decisionmaking, their actual authority in making those decisions has declined as more parents and nonteaching staff get involved in policymaking.

"There's a real growth in the principal who doesn't make decisions all by himself... There's greater involvement of staff in decisionmaking and that creates [added] coordination responsibility," says the study's other co-author, Edward Heller.

The study also found that more women are entering the profession. The study documented a 22-percent increase of women in K-8 principalships over the past 10 years.

"Up to about 10 to 15 years ago, there was a push under way to open the doors of opportunity for women in elementary schools more than in the past," Doud says. "I would expect the number of [elementary] principalships 10 years from now to be more than 50 percent women."

Women are being offered more opportunities and younger women, especially, are taking them, Doud says. According to the survey, the shift is especially noticeable among principals with five years or less of experience. The study found 65 percent of these principals are female.

Connie Erperlding, a principal at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Newton, Iowa, is starting her sixth year as principal after an 8-1/2-year stint as a special-education teacher.

"We're now realizing that women can go into many different fields. I guess I'm responding to the push I got in high school, that I can have any career I chose. I was told I could be anything I wanted to be," she says.

Other findings:

* The typical elementary school principal spends 9 hours a day and 45 hours a week in specific work activities. Women report spending an additional eight hours a week while men spend an additional seven hours in extra work outside school like meetings, speaking engagements, or community events.

* The average salary for elementary school principals for the 1996-97 school year was $60,285.

* Most principals (57 percent) say their highest educational attainment is a one-year master's degree, while almost 30 percent reported having a two-year master's degree. Thirteen percent say they have a PhD.

* With a 42 percent turnover among elementary-school principals in the last 10 years, schools should develop a corps of future qualified leaders and current principals should take on greater responsibility in finding their replacements, the study recommends.

A study on elementary-school principals says principals' authority has declined as more parents and nonteaching staff get involved in policymaking.

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