26 SES 12 A, Exploring The Selection, Training, Coaching And Data-Use Of School Leaders
International literature highlights the importance of principal's work on educational outcomes with research relating the school leadership effects on the effectiveness of learning processes (Leithwood, 2009; Alves and Franco, 2008; Cousin, 1998). There isconsiderable research about principals’ roles that could improve school learning (Bruggencate et al., 2012; Buisson-Fenet, 2015). However, these possibilities remain challenged by local organizational, social and professional education contexts, which influence their knowledge about school leadership and their working conditions. This study contrasts PISA 2015’s data from France and Brazil on school leadership and students’ outcomes to contribute to the discussion and deeper understanding of the academic inequalities possibly related to school leadership.
We highlight some possible associations between school leadership and contextual challenges with students’ outcomes in the two countries. This choice relates to the authors’ experience and proximity with these contexts, which facilitated access to principals’ characteristics in each country, particularly concerning academic background and work conditions.
The data provided by PISA 2015 shows that the Mathematics’ results tend to be higher in schools where principals report use of assessment data and praise teachers' work frequently, both in France and Brazil. For example, in Brazilian schools where principals report using students’ performance results more than once a week, the average in Mathematics tests is 403 and in schools where principals report less usage (1-2 times a year) the average result in the same test is 379. The nature of these actions and the discussion of their meaning with the literature are part of this study.
Pisa reports also provide data about some school factors that could affect academic effectiveness. Analyzing this data, we found that Mathematics’ results tend to be lower in schools where problems related to school climate are frequently reported: students’ absenteeism, skipped classes, and lack of respect. For example, schools having high level of student absenteeism present lower results (373 in Brazil and 449 in France) vis-à-vis schools reporting no problem with student attendance (448 in Brazil and 487 in France). Although we cannot affirm a casual relation based on the data, they bring some important clues about factors related to school leadership (Oliveira and Paes de Carvalho, 2019) that can be associated to student achievement.
The Pisa data also reveals some of the different contextual challenges school principals have to face in each country (important to note that PISA includes samples of private and public schools). These include school autonomy and the responsibility to improve learning, especially among poor students. In what concern to school autonomy, French principals report higher level (58.5) than Brazilian ones (49.5), but both are below the OCDE level (71.3). In Brazil, principals face the challenge of a high number of students with poor performance in all subjects tested (44.1%), contrasting with France (14.8%) and overall OCDE (13%). However, are those principals professionally prepared and have consistent working conditions to do so? This discussion will be explored in our preliminary Conclusions.
In this study, we conducted a descriptive analysis using the data from PISA 2015, provided by OCDE, including the answers to the schools’ social questionnaires. We have contrasted the two different school contexts (Brazil and France) using this common database. We chose to highlight here some information that could be associated to school leadership considering different features: school climate, teachers’ preparation, use of assessment data, managerial autonomy, etc. This data is discussed in association with students’ Mathematics’ average results per country. It is important to note that the data organization showing the different results (average) does not intend to establish a direct relation between the variables (e.g.: Praise teachers’ work improves students’ results). Nonetheless, as we discuss in the full article based on the previous literature, some relations pointed here should not be underestimated. In order to improve understanding on how school principals face their challenges in each context studied, we used data from local databases as well. In Brazil, we analyzed the data provided by Prova Brasil 2015, a national assessment applied each two years by national government in the areas of Portuguese Language and Mathematics. Along with the tests, social demographic data is collected from students, principals, and teachers. This data is available online and educational researchers can download and operate with the databases. As for France, we added data from the Bilan Social 2016 – Personnels de direction, as well as legal regulation on principal selection and carrier from the French Ministry of Education, available also online. This information is also discussed in French literature on leadership (Buisson-Fenet, 2015; Normand, 2015; Derouet, Normand, 2015), which was very important to better contextualize French data discussed in the study.
Complementing our analysis, we also conducted a comparative descriptive analysis of the training and working conditions of school principals in these countries. In Brazil, school principals are generally not required to have a special certification (only 3% have a Master’s degree and none have a Doctoral degree), but many local policies implement in-service education (75% of then are “Specialist”). Few educational systems have a principals’ career plan, leading little incentive for further studying. In France school principals have a higher educational level (e.g. 33% have Master’s degree and 11% have Doctoral degree). Although principals’ salaries are higher than those of teachers, they are on average 20% below other professionals with similar education levels (as doctors and dentists). As in France, in the Brazilian public-school system principals don’t have autonomy to select, hire or dismiss teachers, including substitute teachers, which leads to students potentially having fewer classes than planned. Historical tradition in Brazil (Souza, 2006) and in France (Barrère, 2013) established the principal’s organizational role mainly as a state representative with hierarchical and administrative responsibilities. Their professional horizon changed fundamentally in the last decades do to the dissemination of evaluation and school accountability policies, despite less radical changes in working conditions and growing sociocultural diversification of student population in both countries. These working conditions demand an increasingly greater sense of responsibility, and personal and leadership skills, to improve student learning opportunities. However, is all this possible with so little autonomy? Does current professional training – pre-service and in-service – sustain effectively the fulfilment of the new expectations on principals’ work?
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