UF Researcher Studies Changes In The Elementary School Principalship

February 11, 1999

GAINESVILLE --- There are twice as many women in the elementary school principalship as there were a decade ago, but job stress and responsibilities have increased, leading principals to retire earlier and earlier, a University of Florida researcher found.

"There are a lot of things beginning to happen in the principalship," said Doud, the chair of UF's educational leadership department. "The changes have posed a whole lot of issues for people to address in the next decade."

Doud's recently published book, "The K-8 Principal in 1998," co-written by Edward Keller, is the culmination of a 10-year study of elementary school principals commissioned by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Doud worked with the Education Research Service, a research group that works with national education organizations, to analyze 1,323 questionnaires from principals nationwide.

The principals association has conducted similar studies every ten years since 1928. One of the most significant differences between the 1988 and 1998 studies was that the percentage of women in the principalship jumped from 20 percent to 42 percent and is continuing to grow, Doud said.

"Sixty-five percent of those with less than five years of experience in this study were women," he said. "The implication of that would seem to me that opportunities for women will continue to increase, and there's no reason to expect otherwise."

Doud said this shift is positive because the number of female teachers has far exceeded the number of female principals for years. Closing this gap will help bring more experienced educators into leadership positions, Doud said.

However, Doud is concerned about how this decline in the number of male principals and teachers will affect young students who need male role models.

"Many of the children in school nowadays come from single-parent homes, where the primary figure is the mother," he said. "Often, the male that they have in the elementary school classroom or principalship is one of the most significant role models that they have."

Another significant trend among principals in the last 10 years is a 40 percent turnover rate, and Doud said he expects a similar turnover over the course of the next decade.

"The benefit of such a high turnover rate is that you continue to have people who are young, energetic and have probably been trained in methods more in harmony with the direction things are going now," he said. "The real drawback is that you lose a pool of experienced leaders, people who have been around and who have learned to manage some of the things that are part of the process today, who have insight and can help teachers and parents deal with some of the issues."

More than ever, principals in Doud's study reported increased job responsibilities and higher stress levels from juggling things such as fund raising, public relations, teacher training and student performance.

"We're finding that we're starting to experience a principal shortage because of the additional responsibilities the public has placed in the principalship," said Samuel Sava, the executive director the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "We're struggling with that now, and there's certainly a link between the high turnover and the increased stress."

According to the data reported in the study, today's typical elementary school principal is a 50-year-old white male who has been a principal for 11 years, works at least 10 hours a day and plans to retire at the age of 57. Despite the increase in the number of female principals, Doud said the number of minorities remains surprisingly low, which he said concerns him about the future of the job.

"Part of the problem is that we don't have a lot of black or Hispanic men or women in the teaching ranks, and the historical pattern is that you select principals from the ranks of teachers," he said. "We're very concerned about this nationally because we have a diverse population of students, and the population of principals isn't very diverse at all."

University of Florida

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