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What Are the Biggest Problems Faced by Public School Principals?

Principals of schools must address the biggest challenges so students can learn better.

More than 50 million students attend public schools in the U.S.* With this many students, it’s no surprise that school administrators deal with a number of complications. But what are the biggest problems currently faced by public school principals? A recent report by Gallup offers some answers.

As part of a large study of the U.S. education system, Gallup polled a general audience of U.S. adults as well as parents of school-aged children to determine the biggest problem in their local schools. Each of the following eight problems received some votes:

What Are the Biggest Problems Faced by Public School Principals?

  • Drug use
  • Difficulty getting good teachers
  • Fighting
  • Testing and regulations 
  • Lack of parental support
  • Overcrowded schools
  • Lack of discipline
  • Lack of financial support  

What Is the Most Common Problem?

35% of the adult population and 36% of parents named a lack of financial support as the biggest problem faced by their schools. The other problems in the top half included lack of discipline, overcrowded schools, and lack of parental support, although none of those had even a third of the votes received by “lack of financial support.”

What should we make of this? On one hand, it’s an odd result, given, as the Gallup study notes, that the U.S. devotes a larger share of its GDP to education than any other developed nation. On the other hand, the result isn’t that surprising at all. U.S. education funding relies primarily on property taxes, creating a system of haves and have-nots where property-rich districts can spend much more per student than property-poor districts. This affects everything from class size to teacher retention to the ability to appropriately discipline.

What Do Principals Do to Combat Financial Problems?

Generally, school principals are not involved in education funding laws and procedures. However, that doesn’t mean they are helpless in the face of financial shortfall. Here are three areas where principals of schools can improve their schools regardless of financial situation.

Personal Leadership

In its study of the U.S. education system, Gallup found that talented principals lead schools to higher achievement. That means improving leadership is a great way for a principal to help his or her school. To do this, principals should build an efficient and effective management system so nothing falls through the cracks, hold everyone accountable for the achievement of the school, treat teachers like professionals by involving them in the decision-making process, and build strong relationships with staff, teachers, administrators, and parents, making sure everyone is on the same page and headed in the same direction.

Student Emotional Engagement

Defined as an involvement in and an enthusiasm for school, student emotional engagement can lead to achievement. For students to be fully engaged, they need to feel that they have at least one good friend at school, feel safe, feel their teachers emphasize the importance of schoolwork, feel they have the opportunity to do what they’re best at, and feel praised or recognized for their achievements. Schools with more emotionally engaged students report higher scores in both reading and math.§

Appropriate Technology

Gallup’s research found that many schools purchase expensive classroom technology with little or no proven learning value. School principals often have a say in the procurement of technology and should make sure all technology brought into the classroom adds to—rather than detracts from—learning. The teacher-student relationship shouldn’t be replaced by technology. Instead, the technology should help teachers individualize instruction, thus making the technology a good use of financial resources.

How to Become a Principal and Make a Difference

To effectively address financial restraints and other problems in our public schools, we need skilled, talented principals. If you believe you can provide that kind of educational leadership, you can help yourself become a principal by enrolling in an education specialist degree program (EdS). Specifically, you should consider an EdS degree focused on educational leadership to help gain the practical skills and knowledge you need to become an effective school principal.

An online EdS degree program is a particularly good choice if you’re currently working in the education field and do not want to leave or suspend your current job. A number of online universities offer education specialist degree programs, giving you the opportunity to complete your coursework in a way that doesn’t require you to miss time from work.

Earning an education specialist degree online can help you become a great educational leader, and the kind of principal who can help our schools address and solve the biggest problems.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online EdS in Educational Leadership and Administration (Principal Preparation) degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts: Back to School Statistics, on the Internet at

†Gallup, Beyond the Principal: U.S. Education System Needs Visionary Leaders, State of America’s Schools, available as a PDF download on the Internet at

‡Gallup, Great Principals Foster Engagement Among Teachers, Students, and Parents, State of America’s Schools, available as a PDF download on the Internet at

§Gallup, Emotional Engagement: The Heartbeat of the Education Process, State of America’s Schools, available as a PDF download on the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

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