A Qualitative Case Study of the Impact of Principal Leadership and School Performance Awards on Eight Maryland Schools
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From 1996-2001, the Maryland State Department of Education allocated each year, $2.75 million in monetary awards to schools that made significant improvement in student achievement on the Maryland Performance Assessment Program. School performance rewards, given to 313 schools, averaged $30,000. The purposes of the awards were to reward successful schools, to encourage their continuous improvement, and to set an example for others to follow. Of the 313 schools, a limited number, eighteen, were successful in winning awards three or four times.
The purpose of this qualitative case study dissertation was to obtain rich information about the leadership practices of principals that received awards for improvement numerous times and to explore and describe their perceptions about the impact of these rewards on their schools. The methodology employed involved in-depth interviews of eight principals that received rewards three or four times and an examination of supportive documentation used to corroborate interview data. The study also presents economic, demographic, and performance data on each school as well as comparative data with all schools that received awards and all schools in Maryland that participated in the state assessments and were, therefore, eligible for rewards. Descriptions of individual leadership practices before, during, and after the administration of the rewards are included, as well as an analytic cross-case analysis of patterns across the cases. Accounts of how schools used rewards money are also included. Findings point to an interrelationship between effective outcomes of the rewards program and unique leadership skills and practices employed by the principals. They suggest that the utility of a school-based performance awards program may require an environment poised for change and improvement.