Study finds racial, gender gaps in principal hiring

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Dive Brief:

  • Black and female assistant principals are less likely than their white and male counterparts to be promoted to principal. And when they are, it takes longer, according to a study published Monday.
  • Analyzing Texas Education Agency data on promotions for almost 4,700 assistant principals in the state from 2001 to 2017, Lauren Bailes at the University of Delaware and Sarah Guthery at Texas A&M University–Commerce found equally qualified black assistant principals were 18% percent less likely to be promoted than white candidates. In addition, when they did become principal, it took 5.27 years, compared to 4.67 for white candidates.
  • The researchers identified a gender gap specifically at the high school level, with women 5-7% less likely to be promoted to principal and waiting 5.62 years for the position, compared to 4.94 years for men. In a comment, Bailes noted that because serving as a high school principal is often a pathway toward top-level district positions, women who serve as elementary principals are “less likely to be tapped for superintendencies and other district leadership positions.”

Dive Insight:

The findings add to the ongoing discussion over how to diversify the education field as the nation’s student population becomes less white. Multiple studies have also shown benefits for students of color when they attend schools with educators of the same race. For example, earlier research found schools with more black teachers or a black principal have greater numbers of black students in gifted programs. 

“Even though more diversity in the teacher and principal workforce has been shown to improve teacher retention and student outcomes, our findings indicate that there are still systematic race- and gender-based inequities within the profession,” Guthery, an assistant professor of education, said in a comment. “This is despite a teacher corps that is overwhelmingly female and becoming more racially diverse.”

One interesting finding was even if a female educator worked as an assistant principal in a high school for a longer time than a male counterpart, she was still more likely to become a principal at an elementary school than at a high school. 

The authors suggest superintendents are responsible for identifying inequities and increasing efforts to address them. “Those who wish to rectify race and gender equity gaps in their districts first need to examine the rates of promotion and the average time to promotion for women and assistant principals of color in their own districts,” they wrote. Assigning aspiring school leaders to schools with principals “who have a track record of successfully training and promoting a diverse group of assistant principals” is one recommendation. 

Lessons are also available from research on efforts to diversify the teaching workforce. For example, work released last year by REL Northwest, one of the U.S. Department of Education’s regional research labs, showed posting available positions and hiring early, as well as offering competitive salaries and benefits, were among the practices found in districts that were more effective at hiring teachers of color. 

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