In the Midst of Comprehensive School Reform: Principals’ Perspectives
by Thomas L. Good - 2008
Background/Context: The role of the principal, and especially the role of the principal in promoting school reform to increase student achievement, is a topic with a long and evolving history. Principals are believed to play a critical role in school reform because they have the potential to impact all aspects of school policy, from time allocated to recess to decisions about curriculum and instruction, teacher hiring and evaluation, assignment of students to teachers, and after-school programs. There is a growing and complex literature about the role of principal and teacher leadership in school reform and improvement, and the degree to which the principal’s leadership and management can improve academic achievement is actively debated. However, most of this debate occurs on logical grounds because the empirical evidence linking principal leadership to student achievement is sparse.
Research Question: The interview questions assessed principals’ perceptions about degree of program implementation, school progress, and issues of teacher and student stability, and their beliefs about what policy makers should know about school reform.
Population: Twenty-one principals of schools involved in Comprehensive School Reform in Arizona.
Research Design: The research was based on interviews conducted with each of the principals. The focus of this article centers on their discussions of English language learners, teacher turnover, what students are like, teacher effort, parent involvement, budget constraints, and principal expectations for improving achievement.
Conclusions: Principals described some of the issues they faced in trying to improve student achievement. These issues included high numbers of students (and parents) with limited English skills, high turnover rates of teachers and students, difficulty of involving parents in schooling, inadequate and inflexible budgets, and the various constraints imposed by the pervasive conditions of poverty that surrounded these schools and their students. Yet, despite these obstacles, principals exhibited matter-of-fact and, in most cases, positive postures toward school improvement. Principals did not see their problems—especially those of students’ learning—to be intractable, but they did urge policy makers to have patience and a fuller awareness of the difficulties they face.
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