Nearly 100% of principals polled for the National Center for Education Statistics' 2017-18 National Teacher and Principal Survey reported feeling they had a major influence on several school activity decisions, including the hiring of teachers and setting discipline.
The area of highest influence principals said they had was in evaluating teachers, while the area of lowest influence was in establishing curriculum. Principals’ perceived influence, however, differed by school type, with private school leaders saying they had a greater level of influence in establishing curriculum and setting student performance standards than public school respondents.
The purpose of the NTPS is to collect information that can provide a detailed and nationally representative picture of U.S. elementary and secondary schools and their staff. Though data from the 2017-18 survey was first released in 2020, the Institute of Education Sciences is continuing to release information from the survey that expands on earlier reports.
As leaders of schools with responsibilities to staff, families and students, the principalship is always complex and full of many moments of joy and frustrations. The pandemic has made this job even more complicated as school leaders have had to manage fluctuating learning formats and safety protocols, as well as supports for the social-emotional wellbeing of their communities.
COVID-19, however, has given principals freedom to admit they don’t always have immediate solutions to challenging situations. Many principals have said the pandemic’s obstacles have brought their school communities closer.
“I do this because it's my life work,” Principal Quentin Lee of Childersburg High School in Talladega County, Alabama, told K-12 Dive in January. “It's my mission. I don't have time to be fake. If there's something we need to address, we'll have those conversations and we'll move on. But just doing whatever we can to meet the needs of the kids, that's the most important thing.”
While the NTPS survey highlighted a variety of school decisions principals say they have influence over, recent research from the Wallace Foundation of several studies over a 20-year period shows principals have significant impacts on student achievement and hold influence over other important outcomes, such as teacher retention and reductions in exclusionary discipline.
Regarding student achievement, the Wallace Foundation research estimates the impact of replacing a below-average elementary school principal (one at the 25th percentile of effectiveness) with an above-average principal (one at the 75th percentile) would result in an additional 2.9 months of learning for math and 2.7 months for reading each year for students in that school. The research also found the impact on student achievement of having an effective principal is nearly as significant as the impact of having a similarly effective teacher.