Mobility of assistant principals: Examining their roles, accomplishments, and aspirations
V TABLE OF CONTENTS Page NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT ii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iii DEDICATION iv LIST OF TABLES ix LIST OF FIGURES xi CHAPTER I. THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM 1 History of the Assistant Principalship 4 Preview of the Review of the Literature 6 Leadership Literature Neglects Assistant Principals 9 Importance of the Study 11 Research Questions 12 Hypotheses 13 Definition of Terms 14 CHAPTER II. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 15 Assistant Principal: Role and Function 18 Assistant Principal: Job and Career Satisfaction 21 Assistant Principal: As stepping stone to the principalship 26 School Leadership (read principal) 27 Leadership 32 Salary 38 Intervening Variables 40
VI TABLE OF CONTENTS (continued) CHAPTER III. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY 48 Introduction 48 Research Questions 49 Research Design 56 Research Methodology 56 Hypotheses 57 Levels of Analysis 5 8 Sampling 60 Limitations of the Study 60 CHAPTER IV. FINDINGS 62 Introduction 62 Hypotheses 63 The MAP Instrument 64 Analysis of Data 66 Description: Personal Characteristics of Sample 66 Profile of Assistant Principal Respondents 66 Gender 66 Age 67 Ethnicity 68 Highest Degree Earned 69 Experience 70 Salary 72 Description of Respondents' Setting 72 Level of School Organization 73
Vl l 'TABLE OF CONTENTS (continued) Size of Student Body 74 Type of School Location 75 Comparative Analysis 76 Key Dependent Variables 76 Comparing Key Dependent Variables by Gender 76 Comparing Key Dependent Variables by Age 77 Comparing Key Dependent and Intervening Variables by Gender 79 Comparing Key Dependent Variables by School Level of Organization 80 Comparing Key Dependent Variables by School Size 81 Correlation Analysis 82 Key Intervening and Dependent Variables 82 Correlation 83 Predicting Key Dependent Variables 86 Hypotheses' Results 92 CHAPTER V: SUMMARY, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 95 Introduction 95 Major Findings 96 Recommendations for Future Research 99 Recommendations for Practice 101 Conclusion 103 REFERENCES 106
Vlll TABLE OF CONTENTS (continued) APPENDIX: SURVEY: Mobility of Assistant Principals 113 ABSTRACT 120 VITA 123
IX LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1. Respondents by Gender 67 2. Respondents by Age 68 3. Respondents by Ethnicity 69 4. Respondents' Highest Degree Earned 70 5. Assistant Principal's Experience 71 6. Respondents' Salary 72 7. Respondents'Level of School Organization 74 8. Respondents' School Student Population 75 9. Respondents' School Location 76 10. Comparing Key Dependent Variables by Gender 77 11. Comparing Key Dependent Variables by Age 78 12. ANOVA of Key Dependent Variables, Relationships and Responsibilities by Gender 80 13. Comparing School Level of Organization for Key Dependent Variables Using ANOVA 81 14. Comparing School Size for Key Dependent Variables 82 15. Correlation of Key Intervening and Dependent Variables 85 16. Pearson Product Moment Correlation of Key Dependent and Intervening Variables 86 17. Regression of Variables Best Predicting Role Satisfaction 87 18. Regression of Variables Best Predicting Effective Leadership 88
19. Regression of Variables Best Predicting Validity of Work 89 20. Regression of Variables Best Predicting a Return to Teaching 90 21. Regression of Variables Best Predicting Final Career Goal 91 22. Regression of Variables Best Predicting Becoming a Principal 92
XI LIST OF FIGURES Figure Page 1. Design of the Study 51
1 CHAPTER I NATURE OF THE PROBLEM Do assistant principals consciously seek the principalship, or does their comfort level or fear of risk-taking urge them to remain assistant principals, or perhaps, go back to the classroom as teachers? To understand the assistant principal's career aspirations, the term mobility is used, describing a vertical career path. This study examined the assistant principal, identifying demographically who becomes an assistant principal as well as the circumstances of his/her administrative career. It further investigated the role and function of assistant principals through their own eyes. It is expected that roles will vary depending on a number of factors, including the level of the school, elementary, middle/junior high or high school, the size of the school, as well as the expertise of the assistant principal. Role will also vary based upon the principal's level of confidence and trust in the assistant principal. An additional element in understanding the assistant principal is the perception of accomplishments. How do assistant principals view their successes? What kinds of relationships do they have with faculty, parents, and students? Do they receive feedback about their performance? Finally, the core question of this study was do
2 assistant principals see themselves in a terminal career, or do they aspire to the principalship or other administrative positions? Why was this study important? As schools at all levels are increasingly led by teams, the importance of a cadre of leaders rejuvenating, learning, adapting, and eventually morphing into a principal is a critical need for school leadership. With principals held accountable for school improvement and consistent progress in achievement, other areas of responsibility receive less of their attention. Assistant principals as a group have "not been the subject of a substantial number of formal research studies. Although dissatisfaction among assistant principals has been widely reported in the professional literature, additional research concerning the job and career satisfaction of assistant principals is needed" (Sutter, 1996, *P). Currently, there is a debate regarding whether a shortage of principals exists, while there are many who possess certification and licenses for administration. The Wallace Foundation commissioned a three-pronged study by Mitgang (2003) to determine what policy and practical implications were needed to bolster the principalship to better the outcomes for students. The findings specifically rejected the idea that there is a shortage of candidates for the principalship; it found that districts with the greatest need frequently had difficulty attracting those candidates. The study implies that assistant principals have the inside track for principal
3 vacancies, but expresses concern that the role of the assistant principal is inadequate preparation for the principalship. e-Lead, (2008) the online network for The Institute for Educational Leadership reports that the current "shortage" is due in part to the impending retirement of the baby-boomers, coupled with the desire for smaller class sizes and increasing enrollment numbers. One of the primary factors that appears to be contributing to the dearth of applicants is the relatively low salaries vis- a -vis the increased number of work hours. In many cases, candidates are frequently unwilling to accept the increase in responsibility for such a nominal sum of money. Others do not relish the principal's role as a "jack of all trades, master of none." (e-Lead, 2008,13) In conducting this study of assistant principals, these purported reasons that affect the decision-making process for mobility were examined through the responses of current assistant principals. The imminent retirement of baby- boomers from the ranks of principal is the potential match to light the fire of a crisis in filling those vacancies. The ripple effect of "unprecedented retirements and transfers" was felt as recently as the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year (Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, 2008 f 1). The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association found members displaced just prior to the opening of school. In New York, the Council of School Supervisors and
4 Administrators (CSA) reported some 250 excessed principals and assistant principals who did not have permanent assignments as schools opened (Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, 2008 f 5). These excessed positions are attributed to external conditions, such as "a school downsizes or closes, or student registration drops and a school loses funding" (Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, 2008 f 4). While Chicago and New York represent the opposite side of the principal vacancy coin, they are indicative of how current the turmoil regarding issues of the assistant principal/principal profession is. Given the absence of a clear picture from the related literature, this study attempted to clarify assistant principal mobility, in terms of their positions regarding vertical career movement, using the responses of the assistant principals to shed light on these discrepancies. History of the Assistant Principalship No adequate history of the position of assistant principals has been compiled from which to gauge their role in varied school organizations. Perhaps the earliest reference to an assistant in education comes from the Boston local board practice in 1849 of a grammar master and a writing master, who was to be the second in command were the grammar master away. "In 1867, the Boston Superintendent John
5 D. Philbrick stated that 'every head assistant should be capable of handling the master's work during his absence'" (NAESP, 1970, p. 4). In 1864, San Francisco's Superintendent George Tait recommended '"adapting the Boston practice of appointing a special assistant who has charge of the school records'" (pp. 4-5). From these statements, it is apparent that the practice of having an assistant to the principal was accepted, at least in the large city public school systems. After the 1900s, as the school enrollments grew, so did the appointments of assistant principals, without a clear definition of their function or role. Harris and Lowery (2004) state that "Records are unclear as to the actual emergence of the assistant principalship; however, Glanz (in Matthews & Crow, 2003)) suggests that the role began in the 1920s" (Harris & Lowery, 2004, p. 1), as principals in charge of larger schools were assigned supervisors. There were two types of supervisors: one, a "special supervisor," usually female, "was relieved of some teaching responsibilities to help assist less-experienced teachers in subject matter mastery" (Glanz, 1994b, p. 37). The other, a "general supervisor," usually male, was selected to not only deal with more general subjects such as mathematics and science, but also to assist the principal in the logistical operations of the school. The general supervisor, subsequently called assistant principal, would prepare attendance reports, collect data for evaluation purposes, and coordinate special school programs. (Glanz, 1994b, p. 38)
6 Some composite version of these supervisors, predominately the general supervisor, became the assistant principal by the 1940s and 1950s. The instructional role of the special supervisor was overshadowed by the administrative role of the general supervisor. With little authority, the assistant principal's duties were as varied as the school in which usually he served. It is the variety of the functions served by assistant principals that has made this study particularly interesting, because two people with the same title are more than likely performing very different roles. By the very nature of their experience, they would then have a different perception of what to expect at the next level of administration. With some sense of the history of the assistant principal, here is an overview of the research pertinent to this study. Preview of the Review of the Literature To examine thoroughly the assistant principal, the pertinent literature includes the study of the assistant principal, the principal, school leadership, and leadership in general. The gaps in research on the assistant principal are significant. A brief overview of the literature presented in Chapter II provides some perspective on these concentric circles of leadership. Literature related to the intervening variables of the research design of this study (relationship, feedback, responsibility, and school culture) is reviewed. The impact of these variables upon the assistant principal's
7 mobility choice determines the answer to the over-arching question of this study: do assistant principals aspire to the principalship, choose other administrative positions or a return to teaching, or are they satisfied in the assistant principalship? One student of the assistant principal, Marshall (1992), helps describe who becomes assistant principals, for they deal with the dilemma of deriving satisfaction from this risky and sometimes powerless position. They have a great deal of responsibility but little discretion, and they are under constant scrutiny. As they seek satisfiers, they respond to pushes and pulls from their specific school site, their sense from previous professional experience about what is important, and the school system's rewards and incentives. (Marshall, 1992, p. 9) One purpose of this study is to profile assistant principals through their own responses to a survey questionnaire. These will include questions regarding standard demographics, such as age, gender, and ethnicity. In addition, respondents will be asked about their highest degree earned, the length of time teaching and their subject area, their school level of organization, how long they have been an assistant principal, and how long they have worked at their current school. With their responses, it is hoped that a more accurate description of assistant principals can be added to the literature. Evans (2002) cites an increased academic attention over the last 30 years to the "examination of the role, its definition, and its significance in the administrative
8 hierarchy of schools" (p. 1), but without much change in the job. While Evans' study shares some similarity with this study in its examination of the career paths of assistant principals, it is limited to high schools in four suburban counties in the Philadelphia area. This study intends to survey assistant principals at the elementary, middle/junior high and high school levels, in a large Northeastern state. Depending upon the response, urban, suburban and rural areas of the state will provide their own insights into their role, accomplishments, and aspirations. A study conducted by Bartholomew, Melendez-Delaney, Orta, and White (2005) exemplifies a movement to analyze the roles and efficacy of assistant principals. They explored the role of assistant principals as effective curriculum specialists, a turn in the research that saw assistant principals potentially as instructional leaders. Looking at assistant principals who possessed a math specialty, the authors emphasized the need for them to have "strong supervisory mathematics skills if they are to create models that link mathematics teachers to one another as professional resources and broaden mathematics teachers' repertoire of instructional, pedagogical, and technological skills" (Bartholomew et al., 2005, p. 23). Both Evans's (2002) and Bartholomew et al.'s (2005) studies allude to the background of issues and research questions of this dissertation: clearly, that the role of assistant principal is somewhat of an enigma. This study will examine attitudes
9 about career mobility, focusing on whether assistant principals aspire to the principalship, or view their position as a final career goal, and how these attitudes affect and are affected by their current job satisfaction, roles and responsibilities. Leadership Literature Neglects Assistant Principals No study about assistant principals would be complete without a review of the literature on leadership. In the field of educational leadership, it must be stated that assistant principals are not ranked high in the thought processes of the "giants" of leadership literature. Virtually no mention is made of the assistant principal, including those authors who write about teams and shared leadership. Frequently, their focus on a team includes the principal, central office, superintendent, with the exclusion of the middle manager, the assistant principal. Weller and Weller state "One of the 'least researched' and 'least discussed' roles in educational leadership is that of the assistant principal" (as cited in Harris & Lowery, 2004, p. xiii). In his "Leadership for the Twenty-first Century: Breaking the Bonds of Dependency" (1998), Michael Fullan speaks directly to the school principal. He suggests that in a time requiring the most proactive leadership, principals need to break away from dependency to make a real difference in their school. This dependency results from two reasons: "Overload and corresponding vulnerability to packaged solutions" (Fullan, 2000, p. 157). While the principal is grappling with
10 overload and the temptation of the quick fix, where is the assistant principal? Wouldn't he or she be a key player to make that real difference in the school? Granted, the team style of leadership requires the effort to develop the relationships, explain the priorities, and share the vision, but wouldn't the payoff, in most cases, far exceed the time invested in developing the assistant? James MacGregor Burns would probably agree with that investment in the assistant principal in his study of transformational leadership. He defined its essence as "the process whereby an individual engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in the leader and the follower" (Northouse, 2001, p. 132). By treating an assistant principal as a partner, full human being, he or she would surely have a higher motivation and participation level in the goals, or vision, of the principal. The failure to mention the assistant principal is consistent throughout the leadership literature. Sergiovanni (2001), whose work on supervision spans the last 25 years, is held in high regard in the education community. He speaks of the principal as supervisor, earning the trust of the school community to achieve extraordinary performance in schools. In numerous works, Sergiovanni seeks to chart a course for principals in the context of school improvement and efficacy, yet he fails to mention the role of an assistant principal.
11 This is particularly glaring in his Building Community in Schools (1993) where Sergiovanni emphasizes the essential need for community building to share the values and ideals of the school. Referring to principals, and not an administrative team, he states: "They lead by serving. They lead by inviting others to share in the burdens of leadership. Like Plato's Guardians, they lead by knowing and they lead by being" (Sergiovanni, 1993, p. xix). While it is a fact that all schools do not have assistant principals, alluding to their role as team members would both enhance their status and encourage principals to utilize their leadership talents for the benefit of the school community. Importance of the Study Since so little is known about the assistant principal, this study has great importance for planning and professional development. For school districts seeking to augment and renew its administrative teams at the building level, a fuller understanding of the role and the goals of the assistant principal would be especially meaningful. When the assistant principal is portrayed, minimally, in the literature it is as a multi-tasking figure, from disciplinarian and child custodian, responsible for lunch duty and dismissal duty, to a key player on the leadership team, holding significant responsibilities. The review of the literature in Chapter II details the connections between the literature on the assistant principal, principal, school
12 leadership, and leadership. It also grounds the variables considered in this study, relationships, feedback, responsibilities, salary and culture of the school, in the literature on organizations and schools in particular. Research Questions The study made use of a survey questionnaire to ascertain the background, functions, and motivations of assistant principals, at all three levels of school organization, and to assess the factors influencing the behaviors of assistant principals, especially as they relate to their career aspirations. The overarching question that this dissertation sought to answer is whether assistant principals aspire to the principalship, desire to remain assistant principals, or seek other professional positions, including a return to teaching. The specific research questions are: 1. Who becomes an assistant principal? To what extent do the following influence the assistant principal's career motivation: demographics, such as age, gender, ethnicity; highest degree earned, length of time teaching, subject area taught, length of time as assistant principal? In what way do factors such as role satisfaction and efficacy determine the assistant principal's desires to remain an assistant principal or aspire to move into the principalship? 2. How do assistant principals describe their role? Are they satisfied with their current career?
13 3. Do they feel effective in their position? How does that influence their career aspirations? 4. What kinds of relationships do assistant principals have, with the principal, other administrators, parents, teachers, and students? To what extent do the principal's relationships and feedback influence his/her career mobility? These research questions generated the following hypotheses, which were tested after analysis of the data, and proven or disproved in Chapter IV. Hypotheses Hypothesis 1: There is no difference between male and female assistant principals in their desire to become principals. Hypothesis 2: There is no difference in the assistant principals' desire to become principal based on their age. Hypothesis 3: There is no difference in the assistant principals' desire to become principal based on the organizational level of their school. Hypothesis 4: There is no difference in the assistant principals' desire to become principal based on his/her relationship with the principal and job responsibilities.
14 Hypothesis 5: The greater the assistant principal's sense of validity of work, the greater the likelihood he/she aspires to the principalship; and the greater his/her perception of effectiveness. Hypothesis 6: The more communication the assistant principal has with students, the greater his/her desire to become principal. In seeking the answers to these research questions and hypotheses, a survey was administered to assistant principals at the elementary, middle/junior high, and high school levels, in a large Northeastern state. Their responses potentially allow for a more accurate view of likely candidates for the principalship, as well as areas in need of support to retain assistant principals. Analysis of the data provides the test results of the hypotheses, which will indicate some of the details school districts and schools of education would require for adequate planning for the future. Definition of Terms Assistant principal — Person holding a School Administrators' Certification, also sometimes called the Vice Principal, whose job description usually ends with "and other administrative duties at the discretion of the Principal". Mobility - Change in career position; advancement. For the purpose of this study, mobility is vertical movement from assistant principal to principal.
15 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE Assistant principals receive relatively little attention in the literature of education or even school leadership in general. In capturing the literature relevant to this study of the assistant principal, his/her role and function, job and career satisfaction, it was necessary to cast a wider net. That led to an examination of literature on principals, educational leadership, and leadership in more general terms. As was mentioned in Chapter I, there is scant historical basis for the position that became the assistant principal, and meager, at best, reference to assistant principals from the "great thinkers" on educational leadership. In the Encyclopedia of Education, (2003) mention of the assistant principal is made once in the four page "Principal" entry. The description of the assistant principal is one of "others who participate in school leadership activities" (p. 1919). Within the mandate for school reform and instructional leadership, there is recognition that one person is not capable of performing all of the roles traditionally ascribed to the school principal, yet the significance of the assistant's role is not given import. Matthews and Crow (2003) see the assistant principal's role "undergoing change in contemporary schools that creates role confusion and ambiguity" (p. 273). This combination does not fit the disparate images of the assistant principal in charge
16 of student management and the maintenance of order, versus the assistant principal supporting instruction for all students (sounds like instructional leadership, the bailiwick of the principal). From the viewpoint that the assistant principal is the traditional grooming ground for the principalship, they note a conflict with the strong task orientation of student management, which decreases the quality perception of assistant principal advancement (p. 279). Reed and Himmler (1995) put it quite succinctly: the assistant principal is "a hatchet man, activity coordinator, handy man, and fire fighter" (p. 59). Susan Evans (2002) drew from literature on job satisfaction and role to study a group of 88 respondents, who were assistant principals in high schools located in four counties near Philadelphia. Schools were selected due to their similarity to the Rose Tree Media School District, based on the criteria of "location, student performance and demographics, especially as related to size and socio-economic parameters, an attempt was made to control for variables related to school-wide organizational patterns, policies, practices and cultural norms (p. 32). Evans's (2002) rationale for this selection process was her expectation that the more similar the settings of the assistant principals surveyed are to those in the Rose Tree Media School District, the greater the likelihood that their responses regarding job satisfaction would reflect the characteristics of the role rather than the characteristics of the school." (p. 32)
17 To survey her assistant principals, Evans (2002) used the Mohrman-Cooke- Mohrman Job Satisfaction Scale, as well as a demographic survey of her own construct. Her findings did not statistically link career path, professional background or demographic variables to job satisfaction (p. 88). "There is no evidence that the career orientation of the assistants has an effect on their job satisfaction. There is also no evidence to suggest that their remaining in the job either by choice or by lack thereof, contributes significantly to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction" (Evans, 2002, p. 76). In fact, Evans calls for future research to expand the variables, and highlights supervision as a key area in need of attention (p. 89). It is particularly germane to this study that Evans concludes her dissertation with these words: "in an age when it is increasingly difficult to recruit building level administrators, follow-up studies should investigate why these assistants, and perhaps their colleagues in other areas, would rather remain in their current roles than become principals" (p. 89). In The Attributes and Career Paths of Principals: Implications for Improving Policy, Papa, Lankford and Wyckoff (2002) analyzed data on principals over a 30 year time period, available through the New York State BEDS (Basic Education Data System). While the assistant principal is not the focus of their study, the variables supporting who becomes a principal are relevant to this study. Armed with mountains of data from educators in New York State, Papa, Lankford and Wyckoff
18 raised questions about certified administrators who do not take administrative positions, and the role salary and gender play in career decisions (p. 17). Their analysis indicates primarily males, with experience as classroom teachers, become principals, with 60% serving as assistant principals first. Their findings raise questions about salary, gender and competency linked to graduation from ranked institutions (p. 32). Assistant Principal: Role and Function Perhaps no one else captures the conundrum of the role of the assistant principal quite like the title of Judith Koru's article "The Assistant Principal: Crisis Manager, Custodian, or Visionary?" (1993) She has examined the role of the assistant principal, to learn what they do, and how important it is in preparing one to become principal. Her study of Texan assistant principals found that, while all of the assistant principals studied planned to become principals, the work of their transitional position did not adequately prepare them for the principalship. "The work of the assistant principal centers on routine clerical tasks, custodial duties, and discipline" (p. 70). R. Johnson (2000) offered advice on surviving the assistant principalship, with a firm conviction that the position would lead to the office of principal. His recommendations for assistant principals were: to know your own job description,
19 show respect for everyone, and trust your instincts (f 7). He also emphasized the assistant principal's role as communicator, consuming 80 to 90 % of his/her time (1122). Panyako and Rorie (1987) discussed the changes in the role of the assistant principal. They refer to the student management/maintenance of order assistant principal as traditional. The dynamic assistant principal who has the administrative skills to take on other management roles would be better able to steer his/her professional development. Dynamism alone will not achieve the desired career advancement. "Unfortunately, the capacity to advance professionally depends to a large degree on how much responsibility the principal is willing to share with the assistant principal. This, in turn, may depend on attitudes in the central administration office" (p. 7). Their comment underscores the significance of the relationship between the administrators mentioned in Chapter I. Myers (1994) had a unique perspective, as he became an assistant principal after holding a principal position for six years. From this viewpoint, he found three significant differences between the role of the assistant principal and principal: • First, the responsibility levels are dramatically different (p. 115). • Second, specific responsibilities of the assistant principal often call for acquiring new expertise (p. 115). • Third, as an assistant principal, I feel like Samson after I've had my hair styled at Delilah's Beauty Salon (p. 116).
20 With these striking differences, Myers (1994) cites the narrower scope of responsibilities, with an accompanying expectation of a deeper responsibility as adviser to the principal. These are juxtaposed against a real sense of a lesser respect within the school community, supported by the feeling of powerlessness as "Samson." He concludes the article with an echo of the dramatic differences between principal and assistant principal: "in a surprising number of ways - goals, power, rewards, authority, respect, outcomes, perspective, etc." (p. 116), He adds advice to principals that "The assistant principal is the best ally, confidant, and friend a principal can have" (p. 116). While cognizant of the relative lack of status for the assistant principal, Myers acknowledges that he/she can be a real asset to the principal, and, thereby, to the school. It is suggested that this principal recognition is the key to the assistant principal's satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Drake and Roe (1994) devote one page of their 523 page work on The Principalship to the assistant principal. They caution that "the functions to be linked with the position must be carefully analyzed" (p. 188) so that they reflect "the need to keep the role of instructional leader uppermost when developing job descriptions for assistant principals" (p. 189). "The use of the principal's time should change as a result of an assistant's appointment, and the change should be toward a greater proportion of time being spent directly on improving learning" (p. 189). It is clear