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244 Economics of Education Review
Portner, 1993). Still others discount the importance Our sample is restricted to principals in public
of traditional academic coursework in favor of schools.
expanded in-service training (Hallinger and Murphy, Our dependent variables come from items on the
1991). The recruitment of women and minorities into SASS teacher survey asking teachers to assess vari-
school administration and their performance and ous aspects of the principal's performance. The rel-
experiences on the job remain a topic of policy inter- evant questions and related statistics are reported in
est (Adkinson, 1981; Whitaker and Lane, 1990; Lee Table 1 below. I The first question asks whether the
et al., 1993). principal helped the teacher improve his or her teach-
In spite of the lively policy debates on school ing or solve an instructional or class management
reform, the empirical literature assessing the relation- problem. Questions 2-4 assess the level of monitoring
ship beween administrator characteristics and job per- of a teacher's performance and whether teachers feel
formance is small. Eberts and Stone (1988) analyse that their individual efforts are recognized. Questions
the effect of various principal characteristics on math- 5-7 assess the various dimensions of the principal's
ematics test scores of fourth graders. They find, 'leadership'.
among other things, that a measure of academic lead- These questions would seem to cover important
ership on the part of the principal is associated with aspects of the organizational environment of a school
higher student test scores. Interestingly, they also find and the principal's performance. The burgeoning
a negative relationship between principals' advanced literature on the economics of organizations, which
degrees and student test scores. Using data from High highlights the importance of information flows and
School and Beyond, Brewer (1993) finds a positive incentives, suggests that variables such as these gen-
relationship between a principal's rating of the erally play an important role in organizational per-
importance of academic goals and student perform- formance (Milgrom and Roberts, 1992). We may
ance on a composite test score. His findings also sug- reasonably assume, for example, that other things
gest that principals influence performance through being equal, managers who solve problems are better
hiring like-minded teachers who share their goals or than those who do not. Similarly, motivation and
who exhibit other traits which will help principals to effort may suffer if successful performance is not
achieve the objectives they have set for their schools, recognized. Finally, many consumers (i.e. parents) are
In an effort to learn more about the organizational likely to appreciate a principal who insists on disci-
behavior of schools, we use data from a large national pline and respect for school rules.
survey of teachers and schools to examine the Nonetheless, one might ask whether high marks on
relationship between the performance of public these measures, however much appreciated by teach-
school principals, as evaluated by the teachers they ers, actually raise the academic achievement of stu-
oversee, and the credentials and characteristics of the dents. Unfortunately, SASS is not much help in this
principal as well as the teachers, respect, as it does not contain measures of students'
educational achievement. The "effective schools"
2. DATA literature, however, has consistently found that the
dimensions of a principal's performance similar to
those listed in Table 1 are important. As noted earlier,
Before developing our methodology further, we Eberts and Stone (1988) and Brewer (1993) find that
describe briefly our data, the 1987-88 Schools and measures of a principal's instructional leadership,
Staffing Survey, hereafter, SASS. (For further details developed in part from questions like those in Table
see Choy et al., 1992.) The SASS consists of four 1, were positively associated with students' math-
linked surveys which collect a wide range of data on ematics test scores.2 Chubb and Moe (1990) report
public and private schools and teachers in the U.S. that a principal's leadership and vision and the degree
Of particular importance for this study are the SASS of collaboration within the school all had significant
administrator and teacher surveys, which collected positive effects on student achievement. An earlier
data from the principal and a matched sample of tea- survey of the research literature (including many case
chers at the same school. This study draws most studies) by Purkey and Smith (1983) reveals that
extensively from the administrator survey, which pro- effective schools are characterized by collegiality and
vides considerable information on the educational collaborative effort (questions 1-4), clear goals
credentials and career experience of school principals. (questions 5-6), and order and discipline (question
What Makes a Good Principal? 245
Table 1. Teacher ratings of the performance of public school principals
1. To what extent has each of the following people at Distribution of sample
this school helped you improve your teaching or
solve an instructional or class management Sample Sample
problem? 1 = No help ... 6 = Extremely helpful mean I 2 3 4 5 6 size
Principal or school head 3.86 0.126 0.133 0.140 0.171 0.206 0.224 27,530
Do you agree or disagree with each of the following
1 = Strongly agree ... 4 = Strongly disagree
2. The principal talks with me frequently about my
instructional practices. 2.62 0.118 0.362 0.299 0.221 -- -- 28,317
3. School administration is supportive and
encouraging toward staff. 1.89 0.407 0.381 0.143 0.070 -- -- 28,348
4. Staff members are recognized for a job well done. 2.20 0.239 0.432 0.219 0.109 -- -- 28,348
5. Principal knows what kind of school he/she wants
and communicates it to the staff. 1.81 0.440 0.367 0.139 0.054 -- -- 28,352
6. Principal lets staff members know what is expected
of them. 1.72 0.471 0.383 0.105 0.041 -- -- 28.364
7. My principal enforces school rules for student
conduct and backs me up when I need it. 1.73 0.504 0.328 0.109 0.059 -- -- 28,339
7).3 Finally, a recent study by Heck (1992), using pals may not be covered by these questions. They
teacher assessments of the principals' performance may even be resented by teachers. Either would, of
for a small sample of California schools, finds sig- course, weaken the link between these teacher assess-
nificant association between teacher ratings along ments and objective measures of school performance.
dimensions similar to ours and school performance, In addition, we need to keep in mind the fact that
adjusted for the socioeconomic status and language these questions assess different dimensions of a prin-
backgrounds of the student body. cipal's performance. While the measure~ are corre-
The performance variables in Table 1 are also posi- lated (typically, pairwise correlations range from 0.4
tively correlated with other indicators of an effective to 0.6) there is a good deal of independent variation.
school. For example, just 20% of those teachers who Thus there is no reason to assume that a particular
said their principals provided no instructional or covariate (i.e. a principal or school characteristic) will
teaching help strongly agreed with the statement: have the same effect on all of the measures.
"There is a great deal of cooperative effort among
staff members". The corresponding figure among tea- 3. MODEL
chers who rated their principal extremely helpful was
55%. Similarly, 38% of teachers who rated their prin-
cipal unhelpful strongly disagreed with the statement Each SASS question asks the teacher to rate the
"I sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do principal on either a four- or six-point scale. We
my best as a teacher", compared to 69% of those with assume that the teacher's response is systematically
very helpful principals. In other words, principals related to an underlying evaluation of performance
with high scores on question 1 tend to have instruc- which varies continuously. Low values of the under-
tional staffs that are more cooperative and exhibit lying or latent assessment correspond to low marks
higher morale.~ on the discrete scale, high values to high marks.
Having argued for the validity of our Table 1 meas- Changes in the observed rating (e.g. from "Strongly
ures, we conclude this section with some caveats. Agree" to "Somewhat Agree")are triggered when the
First, some effective behaviors on the part of princi- continuous assessment crosses certain unobserved
248 Economics of Education Review
thresholds. The continuous variable in turn is taken to done, it is seen that the regressors of greatest policy
be a linear function of a set of explanatory variables: relevance affect the probability of a favorable rating
by only a few percentage points. (Whether this is
Z~ = 13pPi + 13sSi -I- [~t Tij+ [~ptPi x Tij + % (1) "small" from a policy perspective is another question.
With more than two million teachers in the U.S., a
where Z~j is the latent assessment of the i-th principal move of a few percentage points still affects tens of
by the j-th teacher. P~, Si, and Tij are principal, school, thousands of instructors.) The effect of demographic
and teacher characteristics, respectively, and % is an variables is often substantially larger. 6
i.i.d, logistic disturbance with mean zero and unit
variance. Administrator Credentials
By construction, high values of Z~jreflect a positive The first panel of Table 2 contains the effect of an
assessment of a principal and low values a negative administrator's education and experience on perform-
one. Estimates of the coefficients (13) and the thresh- ance evaluations. One interesting finding concerns the
olds can be obtained by maximizing the sample likeli- influence of education credentials, reported in the first
hood function, yielding ordered logit estimates three rows of the table. Principals with graduate
(Greene, 1993, pp. 672--676). Principal characteristics degrees receive significantly lower performance rat-
(P0 include demographic characteristics, education ings. Specialized training in Education Adminis-
credentials, salary, and work history information, tration is typically insignificant or of the wrong sign.
School characteristics (SO serve primarily as back- On the other hand, in-service administrative training
ground controls and are meant to capture other factors is associated with better performance evaluations
which may affect administrator performance or teach- while administrative internships are not. Management
ers' attitudes toward the school administration, training occupies an intermediate position, beneficial
Teacher characteristics (Tij) include age, race, sex, with respect to questions concerning interpersonal
and ethnicity. The model also contains interactions relationships with the teachers but negative with
between selected demographic characteristics of the respect .to overall leadership and rules enforcement.
teacher/evaluator and those of the principal being The effects of prior employment vary with the type
evaluated (P~ x T~j). of experience. Prior experience in education adminis-
tration (including principalships at other schools) is
4. ESTIMATES generally associated with lower evaluations, as is
experience outside education.7 However, teaching
Ordered logit estimates for the seven performance experience is a plus: principals who spent more than
ratings are presented in Table 2. The columns labelled 15 years as teachers receive higher marks on every
(1)-(7) of each table correspond to the seven depen- question. This finding is particularly interesting in
dent variables described in Table 1. The rows present light of the fact that most states set teaching require-
estimated logit coefficients for subsets of the explana- ments for principal certification quite low, usually no
tory variables. To facilitate comparison of the coef- more than 3 years. (Mean years of teaching experi-
ficients we have multiplied dependent variables 2-7 ence in the sample is 9.8 years.) Length of service as
in Table 1 by -1. Thus a positive coefficient on any principal of one's current school is generally unre-
variable implies better performance, lated to performance evaluations, given age. Finally,
While many coefficients pass conventional tests of salary has a mixed effect on ratings: higher-paid prin-
statistical significance, it is harder to judge the magni- cipals are somewhat better at articulating school
tude of the effects, since the coefficients in Table 2 goals, but give less attention to teachers individually.
express the influence of regressors on the latent con- These results provide little support for proposals to
tinuotjs variable, not on the actual survey responses. "professionalize" education administration by requir-
Let P denote the probability that a survey answer is ing doctoral degrees and professional internships of
favorable to the principal (e.g. a strongly agree or all principals. Advanced degrees and training in edu-
mildly agree on items 2 through 7). The marginal cation administration are generally associated with
effect of a particular regressor on P can be approxi- lower performance ratings. These results are, more-
mated as OPIOX= b P (l-P), where b is the estimated over, consistent with findings in Eberts and Stone
logit coefficient and P is the relative frequency of fav- (1988), who report a negative relationship between
orable answers as reported in Table 1.5 When this is principals' advanced degrees and student test scores,
What Makes a Good Principal? 249
and with Hanushek's (1986) widely-cited survey of The first item measures teachers' satisfaction with
the education production function literature, which their pay, the second the degree to which teachers
finds no evidence that teachers' advanced degrees found parents cooperative and involved with their
raise student test scores, children's education. Both variables were highly sig-
nificant, indicating that satisfaction with other aspects
School Characteristics of the job colors a teacher's assessment of his or her
The models reported in Table 2 also included a principal (a "halo" effect). Nonetheless, coefficients
number of controls for school characteristics. In the on the principal's education credentials remained
interest of space, we do not report these in the table negative although significance levels tended to be
and simply summarize our main findings (a full set reduced.
of coefficients is available from the authors). The per-
cent of students eligible for free or reduced-price Teacher Characteristics and Principal-Teacher
school lunches and the percent of minority students Interactions
were consistently insignificant, as was a large-city The bottom panel of the table reports coefficients
dummy (rural omitted). So too was a measure of start- on several teacher characteristics and on interactions
ing pay for teachers at the school. With elementary between administrator and teacher demographic
school teachers as the omitted group, a high school characteristics. Teachers' age and tenure tend to raise
dummy variable had a uniformly large and significant evaluations. This result is not altogether surprising,
negative effect on ratings? Interestingly, school size since veteran teachers presumably require less sup-
(as measured by the number of students) had a mixed port, assistance, and guidance from the principal.
effect. It had a significant, negative effect on three of Moreover, teachers most dissatisfied with a princi-
the dependent variables (1,2,4), suggesting that in a pal's performance are likely to have higher exit rates
bigger school any individual teacher has less contact from the school (and the profession), leaving a pro-
with the principal (1,2) and performance monitoring gressively more sympathetic workforce as time pass-
deteriorates (4). On the other hand, school size had a es.
positive effect on variables 5 and 6, consistent with Teachers hired by the principal tended to give
a reduction in teacher autonomy and an increase of much more favorable evaluations to that principal.
bureaucratic control in larger schools. This provides further support for Brewer's (1994)
At this point it is useful to consider an alternative argument that hiring decisions are an important mech-
interpretation of the negative relationship beween anism by which principals shape their schools. When
administrator credentials and performance ratings, this variable is omitted from the model, its effect is
Eberts and Stone (1988) suggested that their similar picked up by administrator tenure at the school, which
finding might be the outcome of a sorting process in becomes positive and highly significant.
which principals with better credentials receive more We now turn to teacher demographics. For the sake
difficult assignments.9 This is a reasonable caveat, of comparison, we report in parentheses coefficients
particularly given that their model included only four from a restricted model lacking interactions between
school-level variables, none of which captured the administrator and teacher demographic variables.
socioeconomic status of the community in which the These restricted estimates thus indicate how a princi-
school was lOcated, pal's sex, race, and ethnicity affect his overall ratings.
Fortunately, the SASS data file provides an exten- The original, unrestricted estimates reveal how the
sive list of such controls, such as poverty rates, min- teacher's race, sex, and ethnicity interact with those
ority enrollment rates, and urbanicity, which capture of the principal to influence the former's assessment
a good deal of the variation in job difficulty across of the latter.
schools. Thus we doubt that such sorting can explain The restricted estimates show that male principals
our negative coefficients on education credentials, generally receive lower evaluations than female prin-
However, in order to examine further this issue, we cipals. The unrestricted estimates show the source of
have reestimated equation (1), including more con- these lower evaluations. For example, consider
trols for a difficult school environment. The dependent variable 1. Male teachers regard male and
additional controls are two measures of teachers' dis- female principals as about equally (un)helpful. The
satisfaction with their jobs, both largely beyond the coefficients on principal's gender are --0.189 (female)
control of the principal (thus avoiding simultaneity), and -0.218 (male), and the difference is not statisti-
250 Economics of Education Review
cally significant. Female teachers, however, consider by their instructional staffs. Data from the 1987-88
male principals as significantly less helpful than SASS are used to investigate the influence of princi-
female principals (the coefficients are: 0.217 for men, pals' educational credentials and work histories on
and 0, the omitted category, for women). The result several measures of leadership, including assistance
is a lower overall rating for male principals, given the provided teachers, the articulation and communi-
high representation of women in the work force. A cation of school goals, and the enforcement of rules
similar pattern is evident in all seven columns, with for student conduct.
the exception of the discipline variable (7), where Our findings provide little support for recent pro-
male teachers tend to rate female principals lower, but posals to enhance "professionalism" by requiring
female teachers see no difference between male and advanced degrees and additional administrative train-
female principals?° ing for principals. Indeed, they raise questions about
The pattern is rather different when we turn to the criteria currently used to certify (i.e. license)
black and hispanic principals. The restricted esti- school principals. Graduate degrees were consistently
mates show that the evaluations of black adminis- associated with lower performance ratings, as were
trators generally do not differ from those of whites, administrative internships. One characteristic with a
However, important interactions are observed. Again, positive effect on performance ratings appears to be
using dependent variable 1 to illustrate, black teachers undervalued by state authorities: although principals
report that they are more likely to get help from both with more than 15 years teaching experience received
black and white principals (0.549 and 0.475, better marks from their faculties, most states require
respectively). On the other hand, white teachers find no more than a few years' teaching on the part of
black principals significantly less helpful than white principals. Moreover, there appears to be no easy sub-
principals (-0.255). stitute for such experience: work experience outside
As was the case for blacks, the average perform- of education does not raise ratings, while tenure at
ance evaluation for hispanic principals generally does the current school improves ratings only to the extent
not differ from that of non-hispanic principals. The that the~principal is able to hire like-minded teachers.
interactions, however, show that hispanic teachers The models we have estimated contain numerous
report that they are more likely to get help from his- background controls for school characteristics and for
panic principals. However, on several other measures teacher and principal demographic variables, some of
of performance hispanic administrators are rated which are of interest in their own right. There is a
below average by non-hispanic staff, pronounced tendency for teachers to rate an adminis-
In sum, teachers tend to view their principal's per- trator of their own demographic group higher. This
formance differently depending on their own sex, effect is most pronounced for women, who consist-
race, and ethnicity as well as that of their principal, ently give male principals lower evaluations. It is also
Female teachers rate female principals as more help- present, though to a lesser extent for whites and his-
ful, supportive, and better leaders. To a lesser extent panics. Whether this reflects differences in adminis-
the same can be said of white teachers' evaluations trator behavior, or different perceptions on the part of
of white principals, and (to a lesser extent still) of teachers, cannot be ascertained with our data.
hispanic teachers rating hispanic administrators.
Acknowledgements--The authors wish to acknowledge the
CONCLUSION research support from the Economic Research Service of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Massachusetts
Institute for Social and Economic Research, and helpful
This paper examines the association between prin- comments from Robert Costrell and Steven Rivkin. The
cipals' characteristics and job performance, as rated usual disclaimers apply.
1. Our sample includes four full-time teachers per school on average.
2. Eberts and Stone (1988) also find that a measure of divergence between the principal'sand teacher's
perceptions over performance and conflicts was significant. Unfortunately, the SASS administrator sur-
vey did not permit replication of this type of variable.
3. Also see Cross (1981), De Bevoise (1984), and Valentine and Bowman (1991).
What Makes a Good Principal? 251
4. Private schools are presumably under stronger competitive pressures to adopt efficient managerial
practices. Thus it is interesting to note that principals at both religious and secular private schools tend
to score better on the Table 1 measures than do public school teachers. For example, the mean score
on question one (principal helps improve teaching/solve instructional problem, public school mean 3.85)
is 4.39 in Catholic schools, 4.38 in other religious, and 4.11 in secular private schools.
5. For example, probability of an "agree" for dependent variable (2) is (0.118 + 0.362) = 0.480. The
coefficient on principal's possession of an MA is -0.159. Thus an MA lowers the probability that a
principal obtains a favorable rating on this criterion by 0.159 x (0.520) × (0.480) = 0.040. Similar
computations can be performed for any pair of dependent variables and regressors, using the cell prob-
abilities in Table 1.
6. Missing values of one or more regressors reduced our estimation sample by approximately 20%.
Some of the missing values arose from non-response to particular question items on the administrator
or teacher surveys; however, most are due to the failure of school officials to respond to either the
school or district-level surveys. The distribution of the seven dependent variables is virtually identical
in the sample with missing values of regressors and our estimation sample, and the mean values of the
remaining regressors are similar.
Within-school variation accounts for approximately one-half of the total variation in the dependent
variables. This share is likely increased by the fact that the dependent variables are categorical.
7. We experimented with quadratic terms in all of the administrator experience terms. These were gener-
ally insignificant except for teaching experience (TE), where we consistently found small negative
coefficients on TE (occasionally significant) and positive coefficients on TE squared (always
significant). A cubic term in TE was insignificant.
8. When the samples are stratified at school level (high school versus elementary and middle), similar
patterns of coefficients are observed; however, the coefficients on administrator characteristics tend to
be somewhat smaller in absolute value.
9. Within districts, this might occur through deliberate policy. Across districts, a similar pattern could
emerge if "difficult" districts believe that administrators with strong credentials could best handle the
challenges of running their schools and thus more actively recruit them.
10. A study of teacher responses from the Administrator and Teacher Components of the High School
and Beyond Survey by Lee et al. (1993) reports rather similar patterns for male and female teachers.
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