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Raising legal literacy in public schools, a call for principal leadership: A national study of secondary school principals' knowledge of public school law

Howard Jacob Eberwein, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this research was to determine what secondary school principals across the United States know about public school law as it relates to student rights and teacher rights and liabilities. The research further attempted to determine how often principals are legally threatened and sued, to what degree they are adjusting their behaviors in response, and how they both obtain and disseminate legal information. Simple statistics, analysis of variance, and correlations were used to determine how variables were related and, specifically, how each may influence legal knowledge. Using the National Association of Secondary School Principals' database, 493 principals representing all but two states responded to the 57-question, Principals' Education Law Survey. It was determined that law knowledge was less than the 70% proficiency target with an aggregate score of 58.71% correct, and subtest scores of 65.27% on the student rights section and 56.60% correct on the teacher rights and liabilities section. There were significant effects of gender, school type, school size, school population, time spent preparing for legal challenges, public versus private, educational level, law training, sources of legal knowledge, and law training rank on legal knowledge. Principals disseminate information, regularly provide legal advice to their staff, and feel there is a need for more training in the areas of special education, limited English proficiency education, and student due process and discipline. Eighty-five percent of participants would change their behaviors if they knew more about public school law. These results suggest that principals know more about public school law than teachers, but knowledge is still inadequate. As a result, principals are changing behaviors based on missing information and misinformation. However, highly rated training and job embedded practice positively impacts legal knowledge. In response, principals must assume the role of school law leader with systematic support from state departments of education, schools of education, and professional organizations. A fundamental pre-service training program, combined with regular on-going training and easy to use resources can help the school leader share legal knowledge with school staff, thereby building organizational law literacy in order to support preventive law practice within the schoolhouse.

Subject Area

Law|School administration

Recommended Citation

Eberwein, Howard Jacob, "Raising legal literacy in public schools, a call for principal leadership: A national study of secondary school principals' knowledge of public school law" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325154.