A Gender Gap in Promotion to Principal Positions in K-12 Education

Women assistant principals are systematically delayed and denied promotion to principal, compared to their male counterparts, despite having equivalent qualifications and more experience on average, according to a new study from the American Educational Research Association.

For their study, authors Lauren Bailes of the University of Delaware and Sarah Guthery of Texas A&M University­­–Commerce assessed the probability of and time to promotion for 4,689 assistant principals in Texas from 2001 to 2017, using data from the Texas Education Agency. The authors identified assistant principals serving in their first year and analyzed their progress to promotion, if it occurred.

The authors found that while women comprised half of high school assistant principals — and nearly two-thirds of all assistant principals — in Texas, women were 5 to 7 percent less likely to be promoted into high school principalships than men. As women gained more years of experience as assistant principals, their likelihood of promotion, in fact, decreased relative to their male peers. Women who did become high school principals waited longer, spending 5.62 years as an assistant principal versus 4.94 years for men.

The researchers also examined the differences between women’s promotions across elementary, middle, and high schools to identify the ways in which women are promoted within education careers. They found that even when women worked as assistant principals in high schools for a longer time and had more career experience than their male counterparts, they were more likely to be promoted to principal in elementary schools than in high schools. This had implications for their future opportunities in higher levels of leadership, according to the authors.

“Because a high school principalship is so often viewed as requisite for district leadership, women who lead elementary schools are less likely to be tapped for superintendencies and other district leadership positions,” said Dr. Bailes, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Bailes is a graduate of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Ohio State University.

The full study, “Held Down and Held Back: Systematically Delayed Principal Promotions by Race and Gender,” was published in the journal AERA Open. It may be downloaded by clicking here.

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