Is “Whole Child” Education Obsolete? Public School Principals’ Educational Goal Priorities in the Era of Accountability

Jaekyung Lee, Moosung Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Working under the constraints of external accountability policy, public school principals are faced with challenges in prioritizing educational goals. Using the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data sets, this study examined the nature and sources of changes in principals’ educational goal priorities in the era of accountability, including the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Method: Difference-in-differences method was used to compare the national average trends of educational goal priorities between public and private schools during 1991–2012 period. Comparative interrupted time series method was also used to explore the impact of NCLB accountability policy on those trends across 50 states. At the school level, logistic regression was applied to examine the effect of NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress status on principals’ educational priorities. Results: While academic goals gained traction over the 1991–2012 period, there were setbacks for other goals of education, particularly personal growth and vocational skills. Notably, public schools’ priority changes were more drastic than private schools’ changes. The divergent trends largely persisted after NCLB across the states. On the other hand, public school principals who previously failed to meet NCLB targets gave more emphasis on basic skills and less emphasis on academic excellence and personal growth. Conclusion: Public school principal’s priorities on academic goals have been shaped by test-driven accountability measures, while other equally important goals have been possibly deprioritized. It gives implications for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, in which educational leaders can redesign accountability systems and incorporate nonacademic measures for whole child education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-884
Number of pages29
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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