What Influences Principals’ Perceptions of Academic Climate? | Teachers College Columbia University

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What Influences Principals’ Perceptions of Academic Climate?

Researchers have argued that academic climate, which refers to the shared perceptions of behavior around instruction, leadership, and the morale of the teachers and students, mediates the influence of the principal on student achievement. However, few studies have focused on the factors associated with the principals’ perceptions of academic climate. Knowing which factors of principal influence, assessment, and relationships increase a positive view of academic climate may provide school leaders, district administrators, and policymakers with further guidance on how to support principals in leading successful schools through the development of stronger academic climates. In a recent study, Urick and Bowers (2011) examined the extent to which the principals’ perceptions of their influence over instruction, the evaluation of nonacademic related tasks as well as academic related tasks, and their relationship with the school district relates to their perception of academic climate while controlling for school-level covariates.

The study analyzed the data of a nationally representative sample of public schools from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), namely 439 high schools with complete data, which was collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The study utilized school characteristics, governance, and policies to model school academic climate.

To appropriately estimate the independent effects of high school principals’ perception of their leadership on academic climate, the study uses stepwise multiple linear regression to control for covariates. This model provides information on what percentage of the variance in school climate can be explained by the school level variables, for example, school disorder, instructional influence, nonacademic-related factors of principal evaluation, academic-related factors of principal evaluation, school’s relationship with school board and central office and so on. We can identify the change in the contributions of variables toward the explanation of the dependent variable as the above variables are added into the regression. Thus, the two researchers tested the following equation using a forward stepwise multiple linear regression:

Y (academic climate) = β0 + [β(urban) + β(rural) + β(small) + β(large) + β(extra large) + β(free lunch) + β(social disorder)] + [β(instructional influence)] + [β(disciplinary environment) + β(efficient administration) + β(community)] + [β(test scores) + β(new programs) + β(central office)] + e

The results of the forward stepwise regression in the above figure indicated that each block of variables entered explained more variance in principal perception of academic climate. In Model 1, The authors found that school urbanicity and school size do not significantly impact a principal’s perception of the academic climate of the school, which is consistent with the previous literature on academic climate. The significantly negative effect of the percentage of free lunch students in the school also resonates the common findings that principals have a more negative view of academic climate in schools with more economically disadvantaged student populations.

In Model 2, the results indicated that the principal’s perception of instructional influence on academic climate was significantly positive.

Model 3 added the principal’s perception of how they were evaluated on nonacademic tasks. The results indicated that principals who felt that they were evaluated more on the disciplinary environment of their schools had a more negative view of the academic climate of their schools, controlling for the other variables in the model. In addition, both the evaluation on efficient administration and the principal’s relationship with the community have a significantly positive impact on principal perception of academic climate.

Model 4, as the final model, included the principal’s perceptions of the extent that they were evaluated on test scores and new programs or reforms, and their perception of the school’s relationship with the school board and central office. All of the three factors showed a significantly positive impact, controlling for the other variables in the model. Note that when these three variables were added to the model, the coefficients of instructional influence and the school’s relationship with the community became nonsignificant.

This study is a novel and significant contribution to this domain in three aspects. First, this study is one of the first to examine a large nationally representative dataset of U.S. high school principal perceptions of academic climate. Second, the researchers found that student SES and the social disorder of the school were negatively related to the principal’s perception of the academic climate in their school, confirming and extending the past research. Third, the analysis suggested that when controlling for the other variables in the model, the associated effect of the principal’s perception of their influence over instruction on academic climate and the school’s relationship with the community is attenuated by the extent to which the principal perceived that they were evaluated on test scores, new programs or reforms, and their relationship with the school district. These findings can also help districts and principals to change the academic climate of a school.

The full study is in Urick, A., Bowers, A.J. (2011) What Influences Principal Perception of Academic Climate?  A Nationally Representative Study of the Direct Effects of Perception on Climate. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 10(3), 322-348. 


Open Access Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.7916/D8FT8JS9

An extension of this study to explore the impact of principal perception on student academic climate and achievement in High School is in a newly paper by Urick and Bowers (2014).

Urick, A., Bowers, A.J. (2014) How does Principal Perception of Academic Climate Measure Up? The Impact of Principal Perceptions on Student Academic Climate and Achievement in High School. Journal of School Leadership, 24(2), 386-414.