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How Elementary Principals Perceive the Changes in Their Roles and Their Schools as a Result of Massachusetts Education Reform

Nancy Ruth Spitulnik, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study investigated Massachusetts elementary principals' perceptions of the changes in their leadership roles as a result of the implementation of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993. This study also examined how principals perceived the effectiveness of the Reform Act—what they saw as positive results, what obstacles continue to exist, and what they would change to make education reform more effective. As an elementary principal, the researcher was in a unique position to engage fellow principals in a dialogue about Education Reform, and analyze and comment on principals' perceptions. As leaders in their schools, principals are in a key position to report on the changes they have seen in their jobs and their schools as a result of educational reform. With restructuring efforts concentrated at individual schools, principals become the pivotal people to initiate and direct change. Recognizing the importance of the principal in implementing reforms, the Reform Act legislated many changes in the authority and the role of the principal. These changes included greater accountability for student achievement, more authority over staff hiring and firing, and a mandate to establish participatory decision-making involving teachers, parents, and the community. At the same time, the Reform Act took away many aspects of a principal's job security by eliminating tenure, forbidding collective bargaining, and downgrading the standard for dismissal. This study found that these changes have had both positive and negative effects on principals and their schools. Positive effects as reported by principals included a focus on a consistent curriculum, higher learning standards, increased accountability for learning, increased communication and collaboration, and a push for schools to make needed changes. Negative effects included loss of job security, an increase in job demands and time commitments, increased stress, and inadequate support for principals. Other obstacles to effective reform cited by principals were teachers' unions, the perceived negativity and lack of support from the State Board of Education and the legislature, and the continuing power of superintendents and school committees. Principals in this study also made many recommendations for changes they felt would increase the effectiveness of reform efforts in Massachusetts.

Subject Area

Educational administration|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Spitulnik, Nancy Ruth, "How Elementary Principals Perceive the Changes in Their Roles and Their Schools as a Result of Massachusetts Education Reform" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000349.