School & District Management

Are Secondary School Principals and Their Students on the Same Page?

By Denisa R. Superville — August 16, 2022 2 min read
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High school students aren’t always asked about the decisions that affect how they learn.

Principals can relate to that: They sometimes get left out of education policy debates.

But do their opinions and experiences in schools align in other ways? A new poll from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, released Tuesday, has some insights into that question. It asked principals—and for the first time, students—about their experiences in school during the last year, one still heavily influenced by pandemic-era conditions and polarized politics.

Issues covered included school safety, mental health supports, and meeting the needs of students from historically underserved communities.

Some standout findings on students’ and principals’ views:

  • While 95 percent of principals said their opinions mattered somewhat or a great deal in major policy decisions at their schools, only 68 percent of students concurred.
  • Students were more likely to be involved in planning and preparing for school events (68 percent of the students said so), than in school policy and governance (31 percent) and helping with school mental health programs (33 percent).
  • Both groups have experienced on-campus and online threats, both verbal and physical. But school safety was also an area of divergence. While 79 percent of school leaders (a group that included deans, assistant principals, and vice principals) felt their school was “extremely” or “very safe,” just over half—53 percent—of students said the same.
  • Both students and school leaders agreed that their schools had to do more to meet the needs of students from marginalized backgrounds, including students who are homeless, LGBTQ , and from low-income households.
  • Still, 61 percent of students agreed that their school curriculum prepared them for the real world and life as an adult, while 39 percent disagreed. And 64 percent of students said mental health and self-care were valued at their schools, while 36 percent disagreed.
  • So what makes students excited to go to school anyway? Friends were the number one reason why students got excited about school (81 percent), followed by extracurricular activities (37 percent), then class content (22 percent).

The nationally represented survey of 1,000 high school and middle school principals and assistant/vice principals and 1,008 high school students was conducted online between June 5 and June 23.

Dig into some of the school leaders’ and students’ responses and where they agreed—and disagreed.

How much do you think your opinion is represented in major decisions and policy considerations in each of the following?

In which of the following areas are students involved at your school?

Which learning setting do you most prefer for your school?

Which specific practices adopted during the pandemic do you want to see continue (decided to adopt) at your school for the long-term?

Overall, how safe would you rate your school?

How, if at all, have student behavior issues (fights, bullying, etc.) in your school changed since students have returned from the pandemic? Would you say that student behavior issues are:

Thinking about the last year, how much help do you feel like you needed when it came to your own emotional or mental health?

Were you able to get the help that you needed?

How concerned are you about each of the following in your school?

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 2022 edition of Education Week as Are Secondary School Principals And Their Students On the Same Page?


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