The Importance of the School Administration to Student Achievement
by Tom Lucey
The ancient African proverb reminds and advises us ‘It takes a village to raise a child' (Justpeace, 2001). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory for the child-development considers this perspective by theorizing that a variety of systems interact with a child to create a unique cognitive, social, and psycho-social profile (Berk, 1999). The second innermost system to the child contains many institutions that regularly interface with the child to affect his or her development. The school may be found within this setting.
The school represents perhaps the most important institution in the child's life. Spending approximately three-fourths of the conscious part of their weekdays at school, children critically depend on this setting for their development. Unfortunately, this environment does not always lend itself to student achievement.
Aside from teaching and instructional demands, the potential bureaucratic difficulties associated with different students' educational and life demands detract from teacher preparation measures. Interactive or small group teaching requires much planning, organization and structure. Perhaps administrative demands of the learning environment take away a part of the organizational process. School administrators determine the policies and procedures of the educational setting. Thus, they have the responsibility for fostering the academic communities developing our children outside our homes. This article considers research findings about student achievement and administrative processes and how these findings may be used to create a stronger learning setting.
To consider the optimal conditions for student development, one may first look at the home environment. Leung & Kwan (1998) demonstrated direct and indirect relationships between home environments and child perceptions of academic abilities. Using newly created scales, Leung & Kwan discovered that authoritative parenting may be considered as two separate factors, high control and high demand. Leung and Kwan's research demonstrated that high demand predicts amotivation (a lack of willingness of perform), extrinsic motivation, and self-perceived competence.
The study also confirmed ways parenting styles affect motivational orientations: Authoritative parenting leads to intrinsic motivation and neglectful parenting leading to amotivation. It also indicated that the two aspects of authoritarian parenting generally lead to extrinsic motivation and amotivation. High control does not appear to have any contribution to amotivation and extrinsic motivation however.
Since parenting indirectly impacts student achievement through motivational orientation, similar classroom management styles may yield like results. Students respond to their academic environment. This response does not necessarily show on their report cards however. Cote & Levine (2000) found at the college level that grade attainment did not predict skills acquisition. These researchers' measure of motivation showed consistent and positive relationships with most skills and grade measures. The authors perceived some sort of reward structure associated with student attributes, but the setting did not challenge the brightest students. Brighter students have already been negatively affected before they came to the university.
Cote and Levine's work is important because it demonstrates that long term student success and achievement results from factors in their primary and secondary settings. How we teach and work with students in our elementary classrooms have large bearings on their future success.
Anderman, Hodge, and Murdock (2000) underscores these findings. Student views of motivational environments are important over time. Middle school is a time where students develop negative attitudes toward school, self-esteem and academics, where self-concept declines, and where they value academic pursuits less. Midgely et al, Murdock, and Wentzel (as cited in Anderman et al) have shown that high motivation in middle school students relates to teachers who know, support, challenge, and encourage them to act independently. Adolescents want their teachers to take them seriously. They need clear communication that learning and success are valued. Studies show that high school dropouts see elements of unfairness in their teachers.
Anderman et al's work found that students who were less adapted in Grade 9 were also less adapted in Grade 7. Students who were at risk did not necessarily feel badly about themselves. Discipline referrals in Grade 7,however, predicted referrals for Grade 9. Moreover, 7th grade negative values of education predicted discipline referrals and future college plans. Finally, teachers' perceived expectations influenced students with or without college plans. Future researchers need to consider the impact of different life contexts, such as the home and the school, on the attitudes this study addresses.
The learner clearly requires a strong motivational setting. School leadership does not appear to directly influence student achievement. Van de Grift and Houtveen (1999) concluded that the weak relationship between leadership and student achievement was due to the influence of other school factors, namely: quality of curriculum, amount of instruction time, attentiveness of pupils, opportunities to learn, and capacities of teachers. Other influences appear to mutually interface to affect the setting. For example, teachers perceive themselves as the primary causes on the performance of the school. Yet Valentine's (1999) research also suggests that student composition, organizational health, and the external community play roles. The students' school primary experience occurs in the classroom. Anderson, Huang, Waxman, & Weinstein (1997) express concern over the passive learning environments which teachers create in their classrooms. The researchers found efficient and effective schools involved more teacher-student interaction and more small group learning. Students in these settings perceived their learning environments and teachers more positively than students in other settings. The authors harp on the need for stronger instruction and administrative measures.
Influences on the Setting
Administrators need to focus on teacher motivation because effectively motivated teachers provide the most favorable setting for students. External motivators are not effective however. The observations and comparisons by Heneman, (1998) appear to demonstrate that extrinsic motivators in the form of bonus pay may not have long term success without complementary intrinsic motivators, such as meaningful teacher involvement. Teachers appreciate financial bonuses, but do not respond to them, as policy makers believe.
Administrations and the Environment
Blase & Blase (1999) found that formal supportive administrative measures underlie effective classroom situations. Positive behavior programs use intrinsic motivators, prompt self-reflection, and development. As the authors underscore, "Our findings echo research that discusses long-understood fundamental needs for trust, support, and professional interaction" (page 369). Perhaps when this behavior is modeled for teachers by their administration, the teachers are better able to model it for the students.
Administrative behaviors may relate to teacher morale itself. Evans (1998) reported on a situation exposing the effect poor management has on teacher morale. However the study did not appear to discuss the issues of accountability and how problematic management situations, such as the studied case, could be addressed. It did demonstrate how adverse managerial policies can affect teacher morale. Unless the teacher is seasoned enough to distinguish between social arenas, this poor morale may easily be conveyed to the students in the classroom.
Brent, Haller &McNamara (1997) questioned the training of educational administrators. Their study, however, did not observe the quality of the individual graduate programs where studies occurred. It did challenge the higher education administrative studies system overall however.
Assessing the Administration
A great deal of the difficulty in assessing the administration lies in ineffective and inconsistent accountability for school management. Research findings suggest that inadequate policies and procedures to assess principals exist. Fletcher & McInerney (1995) suggest that identifiable qualities exist for good principals; unfortunately, satisfactory mechanisms for measuring these traits are not prevalent.
When Flethcher and McInerney surveyed superintendents in Indiana about evaluation systems, the respondents disclosed a high percentage of least effective principals lacking motivational, analytical, sensitivity, bias, and cultural skills than the system assessed. This finding suggested that ineffective principals still manage schools because they have not been evaluated in the key performance areas where weaknesses exist.
Webster (1995) recognized the lack of a system that requires standards and accountability for principals. His paper sets forth standards in four performance areas principals need to deal with: basic measure concepts, test based improvement, basic evaluation concepts, and good testing environments. Ediger (1998) modified Heplen and Crofts' 1963 questionnaire about organization and climate into a five-point evaluation system to clarify and develop meaningful roles in the school community. The appraisal should be conducted by those affected by influences on school curriculum. This theory supports observations that teachers may be the more accurate assessors of school administration (Blase & Blase, 1999 ; Evans, 1998; Van de Grift & Houveen, 1998).
Peer assessment may ease the assessment difficulties. Findings of a peer evaluation study have found support and assistance with difficult dealings, meaningful evaluation through learning and cooperation, and increased trust through non-threatening and candid communication. The peer method also lacked enough visiting and processing time, lacked consistency due to unclear exceptions, and lacked open criticism however (Gil, 1998).
Principal assessment is a complex process because there does not appear to be a consensus of effective leadership traits. Moreover, evaluations are inconsistent, with politics often motivating their results. "Principals are challenged in knowing which voices to attend to, which to ignore, and how to distinguish reasonable arguments for emotional harangues" (Davis & Hensley, 1999, p.23).
Principals may also only be as good as their school settings permit. Creating a favorable environment for a principal is as important as selecting the proper person (Terry, 1999). While this research suggests the following characteristics of a successful environment, the appropriateness of the person in the environment is not mentioned as a factor.
- Empowerment by the Administration
- Leading rather than Managing
- Time for Reflection
- Time for Personal Development
Unbridled administrative empowerment may prove detrimental if the person's qualifications and characteristics clash with the needs and aura of school community.
Summary and Conclusion
School administration plays a very important role in student development. While research has not determined a direct relationship between administration and student achievement, administration does strongly influence school environmental conditions affecting such growth. Classroom experiences represent one area. Classroom teachers strongly motivate students and stimulate their long term successes.
These motivations have lasting effects. School administrators should facilitate environments allowing classroom teachers such opportunities. Such processes would use intrinsic motivators, prompt self-reflection and development to prompt a cooperative, trusting relationship.
Unless the administration provides a school setting that supports teacher morale, only the most mentally disciplined teacher will differentiate between the administrative burdens and learner needs. Future research should consider the effectiveness of teacher coping measures for dealing with such circumstances. Findings from such research would provide teachers stronger abilities to focus on student developmental needs. Research into effective methods for developing administrator prioritization and personal skills would also support environments promoting student development.
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