Debates over what constitutes effective school leadership have long focused on principals and teachers, and, until relatively recently, have ignored the roles and contributions of assistant principals (see, for example, Muijs & Harris, 2002; Weller & Weller, 2002). To help close that disparity, this study examines the roles and responsibilities of public school assistant principals in New York State, with special focus on how their practice has been impacted by recent accountability-driven educational reforms.
The study utilized a mixed methodology. With the strong reliability and validity of Glanz's study in 1994 as its research instrument, this study surveyed 133 APs in New York State and interviewed 10 APs from western New York by. The findings indicate that in comparison with 1994, the traditional roles of assistant principals have not changed that much in the aggregate, but their involvement in managerial tasks has decreased as their involvement in instructional-related tasks has increased, particularly in roles as instructional leaders.
The empirical data show that, except for student discipline and parent conferences, three of the five top duties that APs performed in 1994—lunch duty, school scheduling, and ordering textbooks—were ranked much lower in 2010. Articulation, assemblies, instructional media services, and ordering textbooks were no longer performed by APs in 2010. On the other hand, APs are spending more time on instructional areas such as teacher evaluation, instructional leadership, curriculum development, and innovation and research. APs readily acknowledged that the NCLB reforms, which created roles for them as administrators, collectors, and interpreters of data, had greatly impacted the nature of their jobs, although they had mixed feelings about this. In addition, APs saw a strong linkage between student discipline and academic achievement. Their working relationships with their principals showed some evidence of distributed leadership in schools, but contingent on the approach taken by principals. This study, at the same time, raises important questions about how school leaders might develop APs' roles to both improve student achievement and also to better prepare APs to move into the role of principals.