Principal power and school effectiveness: A study of urban public middle schools

Marcel Kshensky, Fordham University


Power remains a key concept in the study of leadership and organizational behavior. It has recently gained attention in school settings as teacher unions seek "teacher empowerment" while many supervisors lament over their loss of power. In fact, principals exercise a great deal of power, and in effective schools a synergistic power relationship develops between principals and their staffs. Social power, or the ability to direct another person's actions, was for years the focus of debate between social scholars. One school contends that power is inherently negative or creates negative relationships, while others argue that power can be used to benefit society. Positive use of power is the key to "transformational leadership." A survey questionnaire is utilized which includes: (a) respondent background information, (b) The Administrator Behavior Scale (ABS), and (c) The School Assessment Survey (SAS). The ABS includes scales for coercion, authority, and influence, while the SAS includes scales for goal consensus, leadership, climate, teacher communication, administrator communication, and teacher performance. An effectiveness score for each school is tabulated using the survey data and three sets of objective data. Extensive factor analyses, reliability tests, correlations, and multivariate analyses are performed on the data. A study is conducted in 34 New York City public middle schools during the 1986-1987 school year. The total sample consists of 488 respondents: 34 principals, 113 assistant principals, and 375 teachers. Significant relationships are revealed between power behavior and a school's effectiveness. Coercion correlates negatively while authority and influence correlate positively with school effectiveness. The manner in which principals use their power has a profound effect on their schools. Power behavior is the key component of leadership and as such has considerable impact on staff and a school's operation. Through the principal's use of influence and authority teachers can be empowered to play a key role in school decision-making, and other processes, while not diminishing the principal's power. A true leader-principal uses power wisely, knowing that power is not a zero-sum commodity, but rather that principal power increases as staff gains a sense of ownership for the school program.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Kshensky, Marcel, "Principal power and school effectiveness: A study of urban public middle schools" (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9034632.