A spokesperson for Kris Kobach’s campaign for Governor says that twelve principals and assistant principals for two Wichita schools is “clearly excessive.”
However, data shows that compared to state and national averages, those two schools actually have fewer principals than would be expected, based on enrollment.
According to reports requested from the Kansas State Department of Education’s Data Central (link), Wichita East and Wichita North High Schools have a combined enrollment of 4,508 (2,331 plus 2,177). That means 12 principals and assistant principals would be responsible for 376 students each. (4,508 divided by 12).
Statewide enrollment reports indicate a total of 518,712 headcount students in Kansas. State personnel reports show 1,187.5 principals and 606.2 assistant principals statewide, for a total of 1,793.7. That means on average, Kansas principals and assistant principals are responsible for 289 students. (518,712 divided by 1,793.7) In other words, if there are 12 principals with over 4,500 students in two high schools, those buildings have fewer building leaders for the number of students compared to the state as a whole (376 versus 289).
How does Kansas compare to national data? The most recent reports are from 2014-2015. At that time, Kansas had nearly 100 more principals and assistant principals (1,899) with lower total enrollment (496,444), or 261 students for every principal and assistant principal. Nationally, the ratio was slightly higher (287 student for every principal) than Kansas in 2015, but almost identical to what was last year. The national average was also far less that the average at Wichita East and North.
However, the top achieving states on 15 educational outcomes had an average student/principal ratio of 260, below that national average and Kansas. The ten lowest achieving states had an average ratio of 306, higher than the national average.
In other words, the top achieving states have more principals compared to their enrollment, and the lowest achieving states have fewer.
Why would more principals and assistant principals be associated with higher student performance?
Research shows school leadership makes a difference in student achievement. Scholars at McREL, a non-profit education and research center in Denver, analyzed 70 studies involving approximately 1.1 million students and 14,000 teachers, and found a substantial relationship between leadership and student achievement.
Principals have these key roles in school buildings: providing overall leadership for all staff in the building, guiding, evaluating and supporting teachers, and dealing with students in areas such as discipline, safety, policies and activities.
A first-person description of what assist principals do today in today’s public school system is provided here (link).
It should be noted Kobach’s initial claim during a debate broadcast live throughout the state was that one Wichita high school had 12 assistant principals. The Wichita Eagle found that to be incorrect. Kobach has yet to publicly acknowledge his mistake. But a campaign spokesperson after acknowledging the initial claim was wrong, still contended 12 principals and assistants for two large high schools was excessive. The question becomes, excessive compared to what? The facts show that the number is much lower compared to the rest of the state and nation.