School & District Management

Poll Finds Differing Views Of School Leaders’ Main Tasks

By Karla Scoon Reid — February 11, 2004 3 min read
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Principals say inspiring faculty members and students is their most important job, but teachers believe their school leaders spend more time on test scores, an annual survey released last week concludes.

Still, the respondents, including parents, did share the belief that the principal’s most important job is to motivate teachers and students to achieve.

“The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 2003: An Examination of School Leadership,” from the MetLife Foundation.

“The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 2003: An Examination of School Leadership” polled 800 principals and 1,017 teachers serving K-12 schools; 1,107 parents of public school students; and 2,901 public school students in 3rd through 12th grade. Harris Interactive, a Rochester, N.Y.- based market-research firm, conducted the survey of adults for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., of New York City, in August and September of 2003. Students were polled in May, June, and September.

The poll is a combination of nationally representative telephone interviews and online surveys, which are not all nationally representative. The results are subject to sampling variation, which is affected by the number of respondents and the percentages expressed in the results.

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View the accompanying chart, “Evaluating Principals.”

The survey, which is part of a series of polls that have studied the opinions of educators, parents, and students since 1984, showed that principals paint a more favorable picture of their leadership abilities and their schools’ climates than do instructors, pupils, and parents.

Seventy-five percent of principals said that motivating faculty and students to achieve was their chief priority; smaller majorities of teachers, 55 percent, and parents, 60 percent, agreed. Meanwhile, 61 percent of teachers and 45 percent of parents felt that test scores were principals’ top priority. Respondents were asked to select up to three aspects of their schools that they thought were most important to the principal.

Asked to determine what percentage of time their principals spend on various aspects of their jobs, teachers believe that principals spend 37 percent of their time on “reporting and compliance” and 24 percent of their time on guiding and motivating the faculty. Principals, however, said they spent 35 percent of their time on guiding and motivating teachers and 24 percent of their time on reporting and compliance.

“MetLife’s survey is a reality check to principals that their best efforts to motivate teachers and students and listen to all school staff, students, and parents are falling short,” Reg Weaver, the president of the 2.7 million-member National Education Association, said in a statement.

Transformation of Jobs

Some observers believe the schism in perceptions isn’t surprising, especially since leadership has only recently come to the forefront of school improvement discussions.

Vincent L. Ferrandino, the executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Elementary School Principals, said principals must re-evaluate how they communicate the goals they accomplish with parents and teachers. The association received a $150,000 grant from the MetLife Foundation this year to develop community-outreach models for schools.

With the federal No Child Left Behind Act heaping more demands on principals, it’s not unreasonable for school leaders to focus on students’ test scores—the measures on which their careers can “rise and fall,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, based in Reston, Va.

“Principals are the endangered species of the No Child Left Behind Act,” he said.

Michael D. Usdan, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, said principals are trying to come to grips with the transformation of their jobs from managers to instructional leaders.

Because there is a growing sense that the principal’s job is “impossible,” Mr. Usdan said, schools could follow the example set by several urban districts that have created two positions to handle management and instructional responsibilities. Schools also could redefine the principal’s position to rely on teachers to fill the instructional gap, he said.

George C. Albano, the principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Mount Vernon, N.Y., has empowered teachers to assume greater responsibilities so that he can focus more on the classroom. “I can be confident, if I’m not in the building, the school can run like it would if I were here,” he said.

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