Star Principals Selection Interview
Martin Haberman
Distinguished Professor
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Research and Development

The development of this questionnaire involved merging the knowledge and research base with the most effective practices of star urban principals. The research and theory base was summarized in the 24 domains of the Knowledge and Skill Base and laid out in Principals for Our Changing Schools published by The National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Star urban principals in three great city school districts were identified: 27 in Houston, 18 in Milwaukee and 84 in Chicago. "Star" principals were invited to participate using the following criteria: achievement scores had risen in their schools for a three year period; they were rated by their faculties as effective instructional leaders; central office personnel identified them as accountable fiscal managers; and parents described them as effective in developing community support for their schools. These stars then engaged in a process of explaining their effective leadership behaviors. They participated in consensus building activities which involved grouping and ranking the performance functions which they believed constituted best practice and which they believed explained their success. The domains of the written knowledge base and the functions performed by the urban principals were then synthesized into eleven functions. This synthesis represents the functions that star urban teachers identified as their effective behaviors which can also supported in the research literature.

Questions designed to assess the eleven functions of star urban principals were then developed to assess this synthesis of research and practice. In order to validate that the content of the questions dealt with the content they purported to be assessing, all the principals of the Milwaukee Public Schools in 2001 (167) were personally interviewed by Prof. Haberman over a period of 53 days. This process established content validity. Respondents, regardless of their level of administrative effectiveness, agreed that the questions dealt with the stated functions. The results of this study indicated that the effective functions cited by star principals which were also supported in the literature were indeed communicating common meanings to respondents. In addition, all question wordings that were ambiguous were clarified or discarded. In an ancillary study, 51 assistant principals were also interviewed. In spite of the fact that assistant principals were typically relegated to disciplinary duties, they identified ten of the eleven functions on the questionnaire as explanations of star principals' effectiveness.

In addition to establishing content validity, this lengthy, in-depth process also provided a pool of responses to the same questions from principals deemed to be less than satisfactory as well as responses from star principals. (Unsatisfactory or "failure" principals were those with attributes opposite to stars: their schools had declining achievement; they were not regarded as instructional leaders by their faculties; they were identified by central office administrators as "in trouble"; and they were not supported by their parents and communities. These were individuals in the process of retiring, being assigned principal coaches or being moved out of schools and reassigned.)

As a result of these procedures, eleven functions representing sound theory and practice were developed into valid interview questions. Since our studies had included both stars and failure principals' responses it was also possible to score responses. The scores reflect the degree to which respondents' answers are closer to those made by star urban principals or to those made by failure principals to the same questions.

These procedures required one year to accomplish. At the conclusion of the year the questionnaire was taken back to the original three groups of star principals in Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee. The numbers of these groups had declined slightly(2 less in Houston, 1 less in Milwaukee and 8 less in Chicago). The star principals were asked to repeat the very same process they had engaged in initially; that is, they engaged in a process of consensus building in which they identified and ranked the behaviors they believed explained their effectiveness. The results of these activities indicated that the behaviors star urban principals had identified the previous year were the same ones they identified a year later. The second finding was that the answers of all the initial respondents' identified as stars were, in every case, closer to the star respondents identified in the Milwaukee sample than to the responses of the failing principals. The third finding was that the questionnaire could be administered with inter-rater reliability; different interviewers scored respondents answers in the same ways.

In sum, the developmental approach followed here has yielded a questionnaire which synthesizes what the knowledge base indicates makes principals effective and what star urban principals themselves identify as explanations for their success. When this synthesis was replicated one year later it yielded the same explanations of success. The interview questions developed from this synthesis have content validity for both star principals and failure principals. The scoring of respondents is reliable when used by various questioners who have been trained to use the interview..

Individuals have been trained to use the interview in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, N.Y.; Buffalo, N.Y.; San Francisco and numerous smaller cities in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan and Texas. Dallas is in the process of receiving training. All cities report that the quality of the principals that they have hired using the interview has markedly improved. Each city collects its own achievement data and may be contacted for further information.

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