Closing the achievement gap: A study of leadership behaviors of principals at Title I Distinguished Schools

Liss Althea Maynard


Education, a fundamental privilege in America, has been deemed the great equalizer that should afford each individual access and opportunity (Hale, 2004). However, research has proven that for many students of color, the American dream is simply a nightmare. Many minority students have lagged behind academically, failing to graduate and failing to become productive, law abiding citizens. A huge educational disparity has evolved and closing the achievement gap has become crucial in today's educational system. However, despite the many challenges, there are schools across this nation that experience noteworthy achievement for all students including high minority and high poverty schools. Researchers have identified leadership as an essential component of schools that increase student achievement. For example, the Effective Schools (Edmonds, 1980) research identified the common characteristics of successful schools-schools in which all children learn. Among the Correlates of Effective Schools was strong instructional leadership. The 90/90/90 Schools research (Reeves, 2003) clearly supported high academic achievement for high poverty, high minority schools. What Works is Schools by Marzano (2003) named 12 key factors that impact student achievement. In addition, he identified leadership as the single most important facet. If leadership is at the heart of school improvement and student achievement, what characteristics do school leaders possess or implement that leads to improved student achievement of all students? This study examined leadership behaviors of Title I Distinguished school principals that have led to increased student achievement and narrowed the achievement gap at high minority, high poverty schools. This was a quantitative study that focused on five supervisory behaviors or domains (human relations, trust/decision-making, instructional leadership, conflict and control) of Title I Distinguished School principals from a suburban school district in southeast Georgia. Nine schools participated in the study-six Title I Distinguished Schools and three Title I Non-Distinguished Schools. Surveys were used as the data collection instrument. A number of analyses were conducted to answer the research questions. The research unveiled a difference, in favor of non-distinguished school principals, in human relations. That is, teachers at non-distinguished Title I schools perceived their principals as having better human relation qualities than as perceived by teachers at Distinguished Title I schools. Of the 13 factors that encompass human relations, principals who lead distinguished schools were perceived by their faculty as having a less caring attitude and providing less positive reinforcement as their counterpart. In addition, principals at distinguished schools do not interact as much with their staff as do principals at non-distinguished Title I schools nor do they complement their staff as much.