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What Makes A Good School Principal?

MU Researcher Receives $1 Million Grant to Study Principal Effectiveness

May 11, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Nathan Hurst, hurstn@missouri.edu, 573-882-6217

Jason Grissom, an assistant professor of public affairs in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs.

Jason Grissom, an assistant professor of public affairs in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— School principals fill a very important role in the everyday function of schools from supervising teachers, to disciplining students, to fulfilling administrative duties. An MU education policy expert says that while a good principal is important to a school’s success, no one knows what exactly makes a principal “good”. Now, Jason Grissom, an assistant professor of public affairs in the University of Missouri Truman School of Public Affairs, will conduct a study to determine what qualities are inherent in a successful principal.

“While it is difficult, a teacher’s job is pretty well defined,” Grissom said. “The job of a principal is not well defined at all. We know that principals matter for a school’s success, but we don’t know much about why and how they matter.”

Grissom and Susanna Loeb, a professor of education at Stanford University, have received a federal grant of more than one million dollars from the Institute of Education Sciences to study attributes, skills, and training that contribute to making good principal. The grant will allow Grissom and Loeb to continue a previous study which reviewed the successes of principals in different school districts.

“This grant will allow us to find what it is that a principal needs to be successful,” Grissom said. “We want to know what kind of skills they need, what training they need, what pre-service experiences they need. Then we will examine how those factors contribute to the management and leadership practices that are associated with strong school performance.”

 To gather data, Grissom and Loeb will administer surveys and assessments to K-12 administrators in four large urban school districts across the country. Researchers will also survey teachers and district administration as well send in teams to observe principals in the school setting to assess performance and leadership styles.

“We want to get a 360 degree view of a principal,” Grissom said. “We want to look across the multiple stages of the principal training process, what kind of experiences they have, how school districts select them, and how they perform while on the job.”

Grissom says this is one of the first studies to take such a broad and comprehensive view of principal development and success.  The study is planned to be completed by the fall of 2013.

Grissom has been a member of the University of Missouri faculty since 2007, after earning his doctorate in political economics from Stanford University. Grissom’s research focuses on the politics and economics of public education. Recently he has focused on how school board decision-making affects school performance and the role that race plays in school district personnel decisions and teacher turnover.

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