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College of Education > News and Publications > 2016: 07-09 news > Diverse school-district administration beneficial to students, research shows

Diverse school-district administration beneficial to students, research shows

Associate professor Ed Fuller's Texas-based research also reveals assistant principals of color take 'much longer' to be named principals.

Hiring leaders of color within K-12 educational systems has beneficial outcomes for teachers and students of color, according to research by Penn State College of Education Associate Professor Ed Fuller. 

Ed Fuller
Fuller, a former special research associate and instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, presented “Considering Race, Ethnicity and Gender in Leadership Preparation and Placement” at the American Educational Research Association conference on his research based solely in Texas.

His research, based on an analysis of Texas data, revealed five salient points: 

-- There has been a dramatic reduction in the percentage of white males obtaining principal certification and a steady increase of Hispanic females obtaining certification.

-- There is increasingly an under-representation of males in leadership positions with respect to Hispanic males. 

-- There remains a preference for hiring of white males as school principals despite the rapid and widespread diversification of students across Texas. 

-- Black and Hispanic males have greater odds of being named assistant principals than their white peers but significantly lower odds of becoming a principal within five years.

-- Personal characteristics of graduates play a far more important role in the placement process than program characteristics.

“There are a lot of benefits to students and teachers when you have more diverse leaders,’’ Fuller said. “Not only for kids [of color] but [for] all kids to see more diverse leaders is beneficial because when you grow up in a segregated system where you only see whites as leaders, then it gives you a skewed perception of what society looks like.

“That feeds into discrimination; if all your leaders are white, then you expect all your leaders to be white when you get into the position you are as an adult. That expectation perpetuates itself; one way to decrease that perpetuation of expectation is to hire leaders of color. There are really tangible benefits to students of color and teachers of color, but it’s also really important for white students and white teachers to see leaders of color. They are less tangible but nonetheless very important benefits as well,’’ Fuller said.

Hiring processes are still partially based on discrimination on who people expect to be a school principal, according to Fuller. “And they still don’t expect women at the high school or middle school to be leaders, nor do they expect people of color to be leaders, so they’re not getting hired as principals,’’ he said.

Fuller said some earlier research, also in Texas, revealed that assistant principals of color “take much, much, much longer” to get into a principal role than if you’re looking at white assistant principals. “There’s a barrier still for people of color trying to become a principal,’’ he said.

Fuller said students of color became a majority in Texas nearly a decade ago. He cited that there’s been a push in Texas to hire educators who look like the kids, and there’s been a big increase in leaders of color. “Which is good; that’s what they should be doing,’’ Fuller said. “The downside is that they are not getting hired as principals. When you break it down, assistant principal vs. principal, most of that is occurring at the assistant principal level and not the principal level.’’

The principle methods to better serve students, Fuller said, are, to pay attention to who you’re hiring and “focus on your teachers of color and your assistant principals of color and mentor them and support them and make sure they’re experiencing positive working conditions so they continue to stay in your system and move up throughout the system.

“It takes a concerted effort of the district leadership to really focus on helping them have positive experiences and nurture them and push them into more leadership roles,’’ Fuller said. 

“You’d think more people would do that because it has ultimately more benefits for kids but we don’t see that a lot. Part of it might be that district leaders don’t know about the research about the positive benefits of having leaders of color, so they don’t make a concerted effort to go and recruit leaders of color and support leaders of color.

“All of that is easier said than done, of course,’’ Fuller said, “but just focusing on the issue and being aware of the issue and working with people to address the issue in that community is the most important takeaway. We are an increasingly diverse society so making sure our schools reflect that diversity is important.’’

That responsibility falls on school boards and superintendents, Fuller said, and changing their perceptions about school leadership and who can be a leader. 

“People sometimes forget to think about that and when you don’t think about it, it’s less likely to happen,’’ he said. “We see the same thing with females as we do with people of color.

“I think there’s a perception that they are not well qualified as leaders.  [People may perceive women] can be assistant principals and assistant superintendents but [may still believe women] are not qualified to be principals and superintendents. 

“Most of the superintendents are still white males in Texas, although that’s slowly changing toward people of color, particularly Hispanic females are starting to make in-roads.’’

An additional element or consideration in order to ultimately have a high-quality effect on students is to better evaluate administrators. “Current school accountability systems don’t evaluate [school leaders] very well; they essentially evaluate [them] based on the characteristics of your kids, particularly poverty,’’ Fuller said.

 “And principals of color tend to lead schools with lots of poverty. If you just look at the percentage of kids passing a test, those schools are always going to be near the bottom because the kids grew up in poverty and poverty is strongly related to achievement test scores.” 

“What you have to do is adopt a system that focuses on how the kids in that school are progressing, so look at growth in scores and growth in achievement, and when you adopt that kind of perspective then those schools tend to look a lot better. 

“That’s one of the biggest issues that districts can easily fix if they’re just aware of the problem that’s going on. Which they should be but [often] are not,’’ Fuller said.

Jim Carlson (August 2016)