Equity Issues in the Education Profession

Black, Female Assistant Principals Face Higher Climb to Principalship

A new study has found that black and female assistant principals are "systematically delayed" and denied promotion to principal, compared to their white or male counterparts, despite having equivalent qualifications and more experience on average. The findings were published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed, open access journal of the American Educational Research Association.

For the research, authors Lauren Bailes, an assistant professor of education at the University of Delaware, and Sarah Guthery, an assistant professor of education at Texas A&M University-Commerce, reviewed the progress to promotion for 4,689 assistant principals in Texas from 2001 to 2017, using data from the Texas Education Agency. In that state, according to the report, principal "patterns" show "slightly more progressive patterns of school leader diversity" than the United State as a whole. About two-thirds of principals are women and about six in 10 are white.

For the study, the researchers identified assistant principals serving in their first year and tracked their progress to promotion — if it occurred. All had earned a master's degree and acquired a principal's license, the minimal credentials needed to qualify for promotion to principal in the state.

The project found that Black assistant principals were 18 percent less likely to be promoted than white candidates who were equally qualified, even after holding education, experience, school level and school location constant. When black candidates were promoted, their average time to promotion was 5.27 years; the average wait time for white candidates was 4.67 years, leaving, the researchers noted, "a 0.6-year gap attributable to race."

In the area of gender, the authors examined high school leader roles specifically. They established that women were five to seven percent less likely to be promoted into high school principalships than men, even though women made up half of high school assistant principals — and nearly two-thirds of assistant principals in all types of schools — in Texas, As women spent more time on the job as assistant principals, their likelihood of promotion decreased relative to their male peers. Women candidates spent 5.62 years as an assistant principal versus 4.94 years for men, leaving a 0.68-year gender gap.

Even when women worked as assistant principals in high schools for a longer time and had more career experience than their male counterparts, the study found, they were more likely to be promoted to principal in elementary schools than to high schools, an outcome with implications for their future opportunities in higher levels of leadership. "Because a high school principalship is so often viewed as requisite for district leadership, women who lead elementary schools are less likely to be tapped for superintendencies and other district leadership positions," said Bailes, in a statement.

The analysis found that women and Blacks had more years of experience even before becoming assistant principals. Men who became high school assistant principals had 1.25 years less experience on average than women who entered high school principalships. In elementary and middle schools, the difference was 1.62 years.

"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," noted Guthery. "We find that diversity exists in the pipeline, but the pipeline tends to squeeze out women and Blacks much earlier than studies of school leadership usually capture."

Bailes added that the underrepresentation of minority groups is likely to have far-reaching effects. "Because principals and district leaders are more likely to identify educators of their own race for promotion, the underrepresentation of minority groups is likely to ripple throughout schools and districts," she said. According to the report, the presence of a Black principal increased the probability of hiring a black teacher by five to seven percentage points, reduced turnover of teachers and also fed into better learning outcomes for black students.

The researchers offered guidance to state and district policymakers, suggesting that they develop metrics of success within their school systems that rate equity in promotion for equivalently qualified individuals who aspire to school leadership. At the district level, they advised assigning assistant principals to apprenticeships with principals who had a track record of training and promoting a diverse group of assistant principals.

"Administrators, such as principals and district leaders, need to identify and actively nurture diversity in all levels of leadership," Bailes said. "It is crucial that districts monitor inequities in their promotion practices."

The report is openly available on the AERO Open website. In a brief video on YouTube, the researchers share a summary of their findings.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.