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Administrators Seen To Be Out of Step With General Public

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Washington--The administrators running the nation's public schools are an "insular group" whose views on a wide range of educational issues, and the quality of education in general, differ sharply from those of the public, concludes a new federally funded study.

The survey of 3,577 district superintendents and elementary- and secondary-school principals provides evidence that "the administrators of our public schools are generally of one mind and have their heels dug in," argued C. Emily Feistritzer, author of the report and director of the National Center for Education Information, a private, for-profit research and publishing firm based here.

"There are no significant differences in attitudes between school administrators in their 30's and those in their 60's," Ms. Feistritzer said in releasing the findings last week. "They think their schools are great, which is out of sync with what the public thinks."

"The thing that fell out of the data," she said, "is that we really do have an insular group of people who are in charge of the educational enterprise in this country."

Officials from a number of administrators' organizations last week disputed that assertion, charging that it was based on a faulty interpretation of the survey data.

The ncei conducted the survey of 1,704 superintendents, 1,349 public-school principals, and 524 private-school principals between Oct. 16 and Dec. 20 of last year. It was financed by a $97,928 unsolicited grant from the Education Department.

Members of the project's advisory committee, which helped design the 62-item questionnaire used in the survey, included Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals; Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National As4sociation of Secondary School Principals; Robert R. Spillane, superintendent of the Fairfax County, Va., public schools; and Denis P. Doyle, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The 96-page report provides a demographic snapshot of the nation's school administrators and presents their views on a number of topics, including their level of job satisfaction, the quality of schools, and the quality and status of teachers.

In the report, Ms. Feistritzer compares the views of the administrators with those of the public as reflected in a number of recent polls.

Rating the Schools

The greatest discrepancies in those perceptions appeared on questions relating to how well the schools are doing, she found.

More than 70 percent of the superintendents and 60 percent of the public-school principals surveyed gave public schools nationally a grade of A or B, compared with 26 percent of the general public surveyed in a national poll last year.

When asked if standards in public schools nationwide had improved, stayed the same, or become worse in recent years, 81 percent of the superintendents and 72 percent of the public-school principals said standards had improved. Only 4 percent of the superintendents and 8 percent of the public-school principals said standards had declined.

In comparison, 41 percent of the general public responding to the same question last year said standards had improved in recent years, and nearly half said they had worsened.

Some 87 percent of the superintendents and 75 percent of the public-school principals responding to the ncei survey said the schools in their communities had improved over the last five years.

But only 25 percent of the general public and 33 percent of public-school parents surveyed said they thought the schools in their communities had improved.

Likewise, the public-school administrators differed with the general public in their views on such controversial issues as mandatory busing, school vouchers, and sex education.

White, Male, and Satisfied

School administrators are "disproportionately white, male, and older than their counterparts in other occupations," the survey found.

Fifty-one percent of the superintendents make more than $50,000 a year, while the average salary for public-school principals is about $42,000.

In overwhelming numbers, the report states, school administrators say they are satisfied with their jobs.

When asked about their satisfaction with specific aspects of their jobs, more superintendents and principals cited unhappiness about their relationship with teachers' unions than any of 12 other factors.

Even so, two out of three superintendents and public-school principals said they were satisfied with their relationship with teachers' unions.

On a slightly different question, however, half of the superintendents said such unions presented a "major problem in doing their jobs the way they would like."

In general, the public-school administrators were supportive of teachers. Roughly 90 percent of those surveyed gave the public-school teachers in their communities a grade of A or B.

Views on Teachers

And just under half said the quality of people entering the teaching profession was better than it was five years ago. Only 10 percent said the quality was worse.

The vast majority of all the respondents--80 percent of the superintendents, 87 percent of the public-school principals, and 92 percent of the private-school principals--said they agreed that giving teachers more influence in school decisionmaking would make teaching more of a ''true profession."

Nevertheless, many administrators appeared to doubt that giving teachers more authority in running schools would help improve the education system. Only 22 percent of the superintendents, 35 percent of the public-school principals, and 50 percent of the private-school principals said it would.

Groups Respond

Officials of several national administrators' groups disputed a number of conclusions Ms. Feistritzer drew from the survey findings.

Mr. Sava of the National Association of Elemenatry School Principals said he was "concerned" when he read the report.

"I really don't think a lot of [Ms. Feistritzer's] interpretations are right," he said. "She ran to a number of conclusions that the report just doesn't bear out."

Administrators say schools are4improving, Mr. Sava said, because they "see that test scores are going up and that the curriculum has been strengthened."

"Educators work in the school arena everyday," he said. "They are better informed on what's happening than the public."

Gary Marx, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators, agreed. "The public's understanding of school improvements normally follows the improvement," he said.

Both officials noted that the schools could probably do a better job of publicizing the improvements they believe have taken place.

"If there is a message here," Mr. Marx said, "it is that schools probably need to do a better job at public relations and communications."

But he challenged the assertion that school administrators are an insulated group that is out of touch with the public.

"School administrators are close to their communities," Mr. Marx argued. "They are among the public officials closest to the people they serve."

On the issue of white males' overwhelming preponderance in the administrative ranks, both he and Mr. Sava said the shortage of minority and female administrators is a problem that education leaders have been aware of for some time and are trying to do something about.

"We have a problem," Mr. Sava acknowledged. "The profession is sensitive to this issue. School boards are trying to hire more women and minorities."

Copies of the report, "Profile of School Administrators in the U.S.," are available for $22.50 each from the National Center for Education Information, 1901 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Suite 707, Washington, D.C. 20006.

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