A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

[Education Research Report]

Who Runs the Schools? The Principal's View

May 1993

School-based management (SBM) is often in the news. In practice, SBM varies from school to school, but generally it gives increased budgeting, curriculum, and staffing responsibilities to principals and teachers or to parents and community members in conjunction with school staff. The influence each group has varies from school to school, but the goal remains the same: to improve children's schooling.

Implicit in this call for greater school-level influence is the belief that those closest to the children--principals, teachers, parents, and community members--know best what is needed to improve their schools. The purpose of this report is to examine where decision making now occurs.

The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) provides information on where decisions are made for three SBM areas: establishing curriculum, hiring new full-time teachers, and setting discipline policy. The 1987-88 School Administrator Questionnaire collected information from 8,580 public school principals across the country.

Principals were asked how much they thought the school district, principal, and teachers actually influenced decisions on establishing curriculum, hiring new full-time teachers, and setting discipline policy. The principals' answers are categorized according to which of the three groups--district, principal, or teachers--they believed most influenced these decisions.

The data provided are principal's reports of conditions and are not based on independent observations of actual making. Also, many differences observed between different community types may be due to district and school sizes, both of which tend to be larger in large cities.

Who Decides?

Public school principals painted a picture in which they and the school district considerably influence curriculum, hiring teachers, and setting discipline policy. They believed:


Table 1

Principals' Views on Who Has the Most Influence Over Selected School Decisions

--------------------------------------------------------------                                Type of school decision                   -------------------------------------------- Staff             Establishing       Hiring new       Setting most              curriculum         full-time       discipline responsible                          teachers         policy ---------------------------------------------------------------                     (Percentage of principals responding)  Total                100               100               100   School district       33                28                24 Teachers              12                 1                 1 Principals            11                49                23  Principals & teachers 19                 2                18 District & teachers    3                 0                 0 District & principal   6                18                15 All three             15                 2                17 
NOTE: Figures may not total 100 because of rounding.

Teachers, on the other hand, were not seen having primary responsibility over any of these areas. Only 12 percent of principals thought teachers were primarily responsible for establishing curriculum, and only 1 percent said teachers had primary responsibility for hiring new teachers or setting discipline policy.

Establishing Curriculum

Establishing curriculum was most often viewed as a school district responsibility.

Hiring New Full-Time Teachers

School principals were most likely to report they have primary responsibility for hiring new full-time teachers.

Teachers were seen having little primary responsibility for hiring new colleagues.

Setting Discipline Policy

School principals were equally likely to report they and the school district personnel were most responsible for decision on discipline policy.

Again, teachers were not seen having primary responsibility for setting policy, but working with the principals (18 percent) or with the principals and district (17 percent).

Community Type

The type of community in which their schools were located influenced the control school principals believed they and their teachers had over decisions. Big city schools are more likely to be part of large school districts that exercise central control over decisions than are schools in small towns or rural areas. Principals in big cities thought school districts exercised greater control than did their colleagues in suburbs or small towns.

School principals viewed school district staff in very large cities as being firmly in control.

Only a small minority of school principals in very large cities believed they alone (4 percent), their teachers (5 percent), or they and their teachers (9 percent) were primarily responsible for making decisions on curriculum. They reported somewhat more control over hiring teachers and setting discipline policy, but the district still was the primary influence.


Figure 1. Schools and Staffing Survey

Percentage of Principals Agreeing that the School District Has the Most Influence Over Establishing Curriculum

             Type
             ----        Very large city ==================================> 62%              Large city ================================> 57%             Medium city =======================> 45%  Suburb-very large city ====================> 39%       Suburb-large city ===================> 37%      Suburb-medium city ================> 30%              Small city ===============> 27%           Rural/farming =============> 22%                        |-------------|-------------|-------------|                        0             25            50            75                                           Percent

Figure 2. Schools and Staffing Survey

Percentage of Principals Agreeing that the School District Has the Most Influence Over Hiring New Full-Time Teachers

             Type
             ----        Very large city ==================================> 61%              Large city =======================> 45%             Medium city =================> 33%  Suburb-very large city =============> 24%       Suburb-large city ============> 21%      Suburb-medium city =============> 23%              Small city ============> 22%           Rural/farming =============> 24%                        |-------------|-------------|-------------|                        0             25            50            75                                           Percent

Figure 3. Schools and Staffing Survey

Percentage of Principals Agreeing that the School District Has the Most Influence Over Setting School Discipline

            Type
            ----        Very large city ======================> 40%              Large city =======================> 42%             Medium city =================> 29%  Suburb-very large city ===============> 26%       Suburb-large city ============> 22%      Suburb-medium city =============> 24%              Small city ============> 22%           Rural/farming ==========> 18%                        |-------------|-------------|-------------|                        0             25            50            75                                           Percent

The situation in small cities and towns, where schools are less likely to be part of a school district with a large centralized bureaucracy, is much different.

Principals in small towns and cities are much more likely to report they or their teachers are responsible for decisions about curriculum, hiring, and discipline.

In general, the larger the city in which the school is located, the less the amount of control reported by school principals.


Table 2

Principals' Views on Who Has the Most Influence Over Establishing Curriculum, Hiring Full-Time Teachers, and Setting Discipline Policy, by Type of Decision and Community

--------------------------------------------------------------------------                               Entity said to have the most influence   Community  ---------------------------------------------------------------   type                                 Tchrs &          Dist. &                School            Prin-  Prin-   Dist. &  Prin-  All               district Teachers  cipal  cipal  Teachers  cipal three Total ---------------------------------------------------------------------------  ESTABLISHING CURRICULUM      Total         33        12      11     19      3         6    15    100 Very Large city  62         5       4      9      2         7    12    100 Large city       57         6       4     10      4         6    12    100 Medium city      45        11       7     11      4         5    17    100 Suburb of very   large city     39        14      10     16      4         5    13    100 Suburb of large     city           37        12       7     18      4         5    17    100 Suburb of medium    city           30        11      10     21      3         6    19    100 Small city or       town           27        14      13     21      3         7    16    100 Rural/farming    22        13      16     25      2         7    15    100  HIRING NEW FULL-TIME TEACHERS         Total         28         1      49      2      0        18    2     100 Very large city  62         -      20      1      -        10    7     100 Large city       45         1      32      2      1        16    3     100 Medium city      33         1      46      3      -        15    2     100 Suburb of very      large city     24         -      56      2      -        16     1    100 Suburb of large     city           21         0      57      3      -        18     2    100 Suburb of medium    city           23         1      54      2      -        17     3    100 Small city or       town           22         1      53      2      -        20     2    100 Rural/farming    24         0      52      2      0        20     2    100  SETTING DISCIPLINE POLICY      Total         25         1      23     18      0        15    17    100 Very large city  40         2      15     13      1        14    15    100 Large city       42         1      13     15      1        13    15    100 Medium city      29         1      18     19      1        14    18    100 Suburb of very      large city     26         2      20     19      -        17    16    100 Suburb of large     city           22         1      26     19      -        14    18    100 Suburb of medium    city           24         -      23     20      -        15    17    100 Small city or       town           22         2      26     20      0        14    17    100 Rural/farming    18         1      27     18      0        18    17    100 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
NOTES:

(1) Figures may not total 100 because of rounding.
(2) The total contains a small number of schools on military bases or Indian reservations. There were too few of these schools to include them as separate categories.
(3) Very large cities are those with over 500,000 people, large cities have 100,000 to 500,000 people, mediumcities have 50,000 to 100,000 people, and small cities and towns have fewer than 50,000 people and in addition are not suburbs of larger cities.
(4)--indicates that there were too few cases for analysis.


Conclusions

These analyses suggest much decision making takes place at the school district level, although school principals have a considerable influence over hiring teachers. Nevertheless, studies of school-based management need to take into account the types of communities in which schools are located: school personnel in smaller communities may already have a great deal of control over curriculum, hiring, and discipline.

Notes:

(1) This report was prepared by Judith Anderson, Office of Research of the U.S. Department of Education, to provide background information for an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report on The Effectiveness of Schooling and of Education Resource Management. If you have comments on thisResearch Report, please send them to the Office of Research, OERI, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Room 610e, Washington, DC 20208.

(2) Tables of standard errors and numbers of cases are available in a separate report. Write to the address above to obtain this report.


This Research Report is part of a series published by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. If you would like to suggest topics for future Research Reports, please write to the Office of Research at the address above. To be added to the Research Report mailing list, send your name and address to OERI Research Report, Outreach Office, at the address listed above. This report is a public document and may be reproduced in part or in its entirety without permission. Please credit OERI.
This Research Report is produced by the Office of Research, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education.


Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education
Emerson J. Elliott, Acting Assistant Secretary, OERI
Joseph C. Conaty, Acting Director, OR

-###-


[Education Research Reports]