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Principals Report Progress in Reform Drive

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Principals of public high schools want more authority in exchange for greater accountability for the success of their students, according to a survey released by the U.S. Education Department.

The survey of the perceptions of academic reform of 912 public- high-school principals was taken in the fall of 1987 for the department's National Center for Education Statistics and released this summer.

Most principals surveyed indicated that their schools had made significant progress towards implementing the recommendations of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report that sparked the current reform movement.

Many Reforms Said in Place

More than 90 percent of the high schools, for example, have instituted strict sanctions for disruptive students, minimum academic standards for athletes, and programs to reduce absenteeism and tardiness.

About three-quarters of the schools also have policies for teaching study skills to students, training teachers to use class time effectively, reducing the administrative burden on teachers, and providing non-financial recognition for successful teachers.

On the other hand, only 20 percent of the schools covered by the survey have programs to reward outstanding teachers with extra money.

The survey found that most principals saw "outside" factors--such as students' personal problems or lack of parental support--as the most serious obstacles to school improvement. Nearly two-thirds of the principals cited the family or personal problems of students as barriers to progress.

"The bushel full of social problems dumped on the schools takes more and more of principals' time," observed Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Seeking More Clout

The survey presented a somewhat contradictory picture of principals' views on the need for more authority.

Only 20 percent of respondents said their lack of authority was a moderate or serious obstacle to improvement. More than half said it was not a problem or obstacle at all.

But 65 percent of principals ex8pressed a willingness to accept more personal responsibility for the success of their schools in return for more authority in running them.

"Most principals feel that schools are too bureaucratic, that they have too little authority to make decisions," Mr. Thomson said.

Principals in big cities were the most interested in enhanced clout. Some 87 percent of urban-school leaders expressed a desire for more authority, compared with 67 percent of principals in the suburbs and 59 percent in rural schools.

Respondents also pointed to the areas in which they would use greater authority if they had it. They stressed development of teacher performance standards (60 percent), distribution of funds within the school (59 percent), and teacher bonuses or supplements (54 percent).

Urban principals were particularly concerned about gaining control over the selection of teachers for their schools. While only about half of all respondents overall cited a need for greater authority in that area, 81 percent of urban principals did so.

For more information on the survey, write Helen Ashwick, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20208.--mw

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