School accountability and principal behaviors
Amo, Laura Casey
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School accountability policies were created in response to concerns that the United States was under-performing and losing its position as an international leader in education. These policies are currently an integral part of the American educational system. The effectiveness of school accountability policies, however, remains unclear and research on how performance-based accountability is related to principal behavior is largely undeveloped. This dissertation examined the relationships between performance-based school accountability and the behaviors of school principals. Using a nationally-representative database of public elementary schools (the Schools and Staffing Survey 2003-04), this dissertation explored the associations between different aspects of performance-based educational policy on principal work engagement, supportive leadership, and shared instructional leadership. Findings suggest that most associations between performance-based rewards and interventions and principal behaviors are negligible or negative. State policy for rewards had a negative association with supportive leadership, and state policy for intervention had a negative association with principal engagement. Among schools meeting all performance goals in the previous academic year, nearly all of the associations were statistically negligible; the only significant association was that between exposure to school-wide monetary rewards and principal engagement. Specifically, exposure to school-wide monetary reward had a significant negative association with principal engagement. Among schools failing to meet all performance goals in the previous academic year, exposure to intervention was negatively related to all three principal behaviors and three associations were statistically significant. Specifically, exposure to evaluation cycle was associated with significantly less supportive leadership, exposure to reduced resources was associated with significantly less shared instructional leadership, as was exposure to school choice. The interactions with school size and school poverty varied by type of incentive and by principal behavior, and generally suggest that the relationships between policy and principal behavior are stable across different contexts. Findings from this dissertation resound previous concerns with present performance-driven school accountability policy and introduce a new point of concern into the argument against the practice. While negative associations between accountability policy and principal behaviors may not be deemed directly pertinent to the bottom line (i.e. student achievement), that the only significant relationships are negative is an important consideration and refutes the theory of action in accountability. Reconsideration of performance-based accountability is recommended, as neither reward nor intervention consistently related positively to principal behavior; state policy for reward and intervention, exposure to monetary rewards, and exposure to nearly all interventions were negatively related to at least one principal behavior.