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Current Editor: Dr. Robert T. Howell  bhowell@fhsu.edu
Volume 44, Number 1
Spring 2007


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The Perceptions of Indiana High School Principals Related to Project Lead The Way

George E. Rogers
Purdue University

School improvement initiatives have been the focus of recent political agendas, professional conferences, and publications (Harris, 2005). A recent educational change initiative in Indiana has been Project Lead The Way (PLTW). According to Rogers (2005) the state’s technology education teachers have embraced PLTW and its infusion into the high school curriculum. The PLTW curriculum is described as “a four-year sequence of courses which, when combined with college preparatory mathematics and science courses in high school, introduces students to the scope, rigor, and discipline of engineering and engineering technology prior to entering college” (PLTW, 2005). Although this research noted that the Indiana teachers had accepted the PLTW curriculum, there was no discussion as to the attitude or perception of the high school principals related to this new curriculum.

The implementation and acceptance of educational change efforts is greatly influence by the school’s building administrator (Praisner, 2003). As the educational leader, the principal can establish an environment that is acceptable to change, or one that impedes the change initiative. According to Evans and Teddie (1993) many research studies point to the building principal as the most critical leadership determinant in educational change. Evans and Teddie noted that the building principals are the change facilitators.

The role of the high school principal has expanded to include the responsibilities of designing, managing, and implementing curricular change efforts (Praisner, 2003). According to Hipp and Huffman (2000), the principal’s leadership is seen as the key factor to imple- menting any school change. As the high school leader, the principal has the major influence on “resource allocation, staffing, structures, information flow, and operating processes that determine what shall and shall not be done” in each high school (Nanus, 1992, p. 142). Nwanne (1996) concurred, indicating that high school principals play a pivotal role in school decisions, and that the decisions the principals make are based on their perceptions and attitudes.

Due to their leadership role, principals’ perceptions and attitudes about a new curriculum could either result in increased educational opportunities for students or in limited efforts to introduce curricular change (Praisner, 2003). McCray, Wright, and Beachum (2004) indicated that it is the school principal who sets the school climate that facilitates educational change. When implementing curricular change, “a principal’s leadership is seen as the key factor for success” (Praisner, p. 135).

The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (2005) indicated that school principals are under intense scrutiny in recent year to assure their schools are effective and their students successful. Most principals feel this tremendous pressure to have their schools and students be successful (Reed, McDonough, Ross, & Robichaux, 2001). Reed, et. al. went on to note that in our climate of high stakes testing, the pressure to perform is a driving force on the acceptance of educational change. Therefore it is essential to assess the attitudes and perceptions of Indiana high school principals toward the implementation of PLTW, the educational change initiative, if that initiative is to be successful across the state.

Research Questions

The following research questions were addressed by this study.

  1. What are the perceptions of Indiana high school principals of the effect of PLTW on their schools?
  2. What is the relationship between Indiana high school principals’ personal characteristics, experience, and school characteristics and their attitudes toward PLTW?

Methodology

Instrument

In order to address each of these research questions, this study used a survey technique to ascertain the perceptions of Indiana high school principals related to the effect of PLTW on their schools. The survey instrument was developed based on the Principals and Inclusion Survey (PIS) (Praisner, 2003). The PIS was designed to determine the extent that different variables were related to the attitudes of school principals. The PIS contains four sections: (a) demographic information, (b) experience, (c) attitudes toward inclusion, and (d) principals’ beliefs about most appropriate placement (Praisner). Permission was obtained from Praisner (2005, personal communication) to modify and use the PIS for the purposes of this research.

The survey instrument used for this study contained five sections: (a) demographic information, (b) experience, (c) effect of PLTW on students, (d) effect of PLTW on teachers, and (e) overall effect of PLTW (qualitative data). Respondents were asked to rate the effect of PLTW on both teachers and students in their high school, sections three and four, using a five-point Likert-type scale (Praisner, 2003). The Likert-type scale was suggested for this type of use by both Zargari (1996) and McCall (2001). McCall noted that “the words of the Likert scale are converted in a meaningful way to an interval scale that gives the researcher the ability to use totals or to calculate numerical averages” (p. 2). The five-point Likert-type scale consisted of 5) positive effect, 4) somewhat positive effect, 3) no effect, 2) somewhat negative effect, and 1) negative effect as suggested by Rollings, Burnett, and Huh (1996). Section five of the survey instrument collected qualitative data based on an open-ended question as to the principals’ perception of the overall effect of PLTW on their high school.

Population and Sample

The population and sample for this study consisted of all Indiana high school principals whose schools had implemented PLTW prior to the 2006-2007 academic year. These 57 high school principals were mailed a cover letter, survey instrument, and a postage-paid return envelope. The response rate was 64.9% (n = 37). The majority of these principals were male (78.4%, n = 29), were over 50 years of age (64.9%, n = 24), and had spent more than 10 years in school administration (70.2%, n = 26). These data can be seen in Table 1. The majority of the high schools enrolled over 500 students (86.4%, n = 32) and were in their first three years of PLTW implementation (71.4%, n = 25). Demographic descriptions of the PLTW high schools are also noted in Table 1.

Findings

The principals noted a strong positive effect of PLTW on the motivation and enthusiasm of their students (M = 4.93, SD = 0.254). This positive effect of PLTW was continued when the principals indicated that their students’ critical thinking skills and problem- solving skills also received a strong positive effect by PLTW (M = 4.86, SD = 0.351; M = 4.86, SD = 0.351). As shown in Table 2, the principals rated PLTW as also having a positive effect on the students’ career awareness in engineering (M = 4.84, SD = 0.598). PLTW’s effect on academic subjects, such as mathematics, science, and language arts, was also indicated as positive by this sample of PLTW high school principals.

The overall effect of PLTW on teachers as noted by these high school principals is also provided in Table 2. The principals indicated that the teachers’ use of relevant curriculum was a strong positive effect (M = 4. 81, SD = 0.401). The effect of PLTW on the motivation and enthusiasm of the teachers received a strong rating by these principals (M = 4.75, SD = 0.439). The principals also noted that the teaming of PLTW teachers with mathematics and science teachers had a positive effect (M = 4.11, SD = 0.785).

Table 1.
Demographic Data
PLTW Principals N = 38    
Gender      
Female   8 (21.6%)
Male   29 (78.4%)
Age level      
50 years or less   13 (35.1%)
51 to 60 years of age   19 (51.4%)
Over 61 years of age   5 (13.5%)
Total years in education      
Less than 20 years   2 (5.4%)
Over 21 years   35 (94.6%)
Years in administration      
Less than 10 years   11 (29.7%)
11-20 years   13 (35.1%)
Over 21 years   13 (35.1%)
Year as this school’s principal      
0 to 5 years   20 (54.1%)
6 to 10 years   6 (16.2%)
11 to 15 years   7 (18.9%)
Over 16 years   4 (10.8%)
PLTW Schools      
School size      
Less than 500 students   5 (13.5%)
501 to 1000 students   14 (37.8%)
Over 1000 students   18 (48.6%)
School grade level      
7th through 12th grade   4 (10.5%)
9th through 12th grade   33 (89.5%)
Years offering PLTW      
1st year   2 (5.7%)
2nd year   10 (28.6%)
3rd year   13 (37.1%)
4th year   5 (14.3%)
5th year   4 (11.4%)
6th year   1 (2.9%)

Table 2.
Overall Effect of PLTW
On Students M SD n
Motivation/enthusiasm 4.93 0.254 37
Critical thinking skills 4.86 0.351 36
Problem-solving skills 4.86 0.351 36
Success in mathematics 4.39 0.645 36
Success in science 4.37 0.598 35
Success in language arts 4.09 0.658 35
Career awareness in engineering 4.84 0.598 37

On Teachers
     
Relevant curriculum 4.81 0.401 36
Motivation and enthusiasm 4.75 0.439 36
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.11 0.785 36

Effect of PLTW on Students

Comparisons of the principals’ perceptions of the effect of PLTW on students are shown in Table 3. Female principals rated PLTW’s effect on the motivation and enthusiasm of their students higher than their male counterparts (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00; M = 4.72, SD = 0.455; df = 35, t = 1.70). This higher rating was also noted for the effect of PLTW on the students’ critical thinking skills (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00) and problem-solving skills (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00), where, like motivation and enthusiasm, all eight of the female principals indicated the highest Likert-type rating of 5.0 or “positive effect.” However, no significant differences were indicated between the male and female PLTW principals.

In general, principals with six or more years of tenure at their schools indicated a slightly higher rating than the newer principals. However, T-tests indicated no significant differences between principals based on their tenure. Younger principals less than 60 years of age, in general, posted a slightly higher rating that their older counterparts. Overall, no significant differences were indicated by the ANOVAs conducted based on the principals’ age group. An examination of the principals’ rating on the effect of PLTW on students by their years in school administration also indicated no significant differences. The principals’ perceptions of PLTW based

Table 3.
Effect of PLTW on Students

By Principals' Gender

Female
   
Male
   
Effect M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 5.00 0.000 8 4.72 0.455 29
Career awareness in engineering 4.88 0.354 8 4.83 0.384 29
Critical thinking skills 5.00 0.000 8 4.82 0.390 28
Problem-solving skills 5.00 0.000 8 4.82 0.390 28
Success in mathematics 4.50 0.535 8 4.36 0.678 28
Success in science 4.50 0.535 8 4.29 0.659 28
Success in language arts 4.12 0.641 8 4.11 0.641 27

By Principals' Tenure

0-5 years
   
6 or more years
 
Effect M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.79 0.419 19 4.82 0.393 17
Career awareness in engineering 4.90 0.308 20 4.82 0.393 17
Critical thinking skills 4.85 0.366 20 4.88 0.342 16
Problem-solving skills 4.85 0.366 20 4.88 0.342 16
Success in mathematics 4.45 0.605 20 4.38 0.619 16
Success in science 4.35 0.587 20 4.40 0.632 15
Success in language arts 4.10 0.641 20 4.27 0.594 15

By Principals' Age Group

less than 50
 
51-60
   
61 and over
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.77 0.439 13 4.84 0.375 19 4.60 0.548 5
Career awareness in engineering 4.85 0.376 13 4.89 0.315 19 4.80 0.447 5
Critical thinking skills 4.75 0.452 12 4.95 0.229 19 4.80 0.447 5
Problem-solving skills 4.92 0.289 12 4.89 0.315 19 4.60 0.548 5
Success in mathematics 4.50 0.522 12 4.42 0.607 19 4.20 0.837 5
Success in science 4.42 0.515 12 4.47 0.513 19 4.25 0.957 5
Success in language arts 4.17 0.718 12 4.16 0.501 19 3.75 0.957 4

By Principals' Years in Administration

less than 10
 
11-20
   
21 and over
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.82 0.405 11 4.62 0.506 13 4.92 0.277 13
Career awareness in engineering 4.82 0.405 11 4.77 0.439 13 4.92 0.277 13
Critical thinking skills 4.82 0.405 11 4.00 0.376 13 4.92 0.289 12
Problem-solving skills 4.82 0.405 11 4.92 0.277 13 4.83 0.389 12
Success in mathematics 4.64 0.674 11 4.23 0.599 13 4.33 0.651 12
Success in science 4.55 0.688 11 4.15 0.555 13 4.55 0.522 11
Success in language arts 4.36 0.809 11 3.85 0.555 13 4.27 0.467 11

By School Size

less than 500
 
501-1000
   
over 1000
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 5.00 0.000 5 4.79 0.426 14 4.72 0.461 18
Career awareness in engineering 4.80 0.447 5 4.79 0.426 14 4.89 0.323 18
Critical thinking skills 4.80 0.447 5 4.85 0.376 13 4.89 0.323 18
Problem-solving skills 4.80 0.447 5 4.85 0.376 13 4.89 0.323 18
Success in mathematics 4.60 0.548 5 4.15 0.801 13 4.50 0.514 18
Success in science 4.40 0.548 5 4.23 0.725 13 4.47 0.514 17
Success in language arts 4.20 0.447 5 3.85 0.801 13 4.24 0.562 17

By Years in PLTW

1-2 years
 
3 years
   
4-6 years
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.67 0.492 12 5.00 0.000 13 4.60 0.516 10
Career awareness in engineering 4.83 0.389 12 4.92 0.277 13 4.70 0.483 10
Critical thinking skills 4.82 0.405 11 4.92 0.277 13 4.80 0.422 10
Problem-solving skills 4.91 0.302 11 4.85 0.376 13 4.80 0.422 10
Success in mathematics 4.09 0.539 11 4.46 0.660 13 4.50 0.707 10
Success in science 4.10 0.568 10 4.54 0.519 13 4.40 0.699 10
Success in language arts 4.00 0.667 10 4.42 0.515 12 3.80 0.632 10

on the size of their high school generally noted very little difference. Based on ANOVA tests, no significant difference were indicated among the principals from different size high schools.

The results of comparisons of the principals’ perception of the effect of PLTW based on the number of years their school had offered PLTW indicated no significant differences. However, two comparisons are worth examining if the sample is divided into two groups, first or second year of implementation, and three or more years of implementation. The principals whose schools had offered PLTW three or more years perceived the effect of PLTW on students related to success in mathematics higher than principals from schools just starting to offer PLTW. The mean for principals (n = 23) from schools offering PLTW three to six years was 4.48 (SD = 0.655), while principals from schools in their first two years of PLTW (n = 11) was 4.09 (SD = 0.539) (df = 32, t = 1.68). This difference in the principals’ perceptions was also noted related to the effect of PLTW’s effect on student success in science. The mean for beginning schools (n = 10) was M = 4.10 (SD = 0.568), while high schools that had the program in place for three to six years (n = 23) indicated a mean of M =4.48 (SD = 0.593) (df = 31, t = 1.70).

Effect of PLTW on Teachers

Table 4 indicates the overall perception of the effect of PLTW on the school’s teachers. Male principals perceived the effect of PLTW on teachers’ motivation and enthusiasm, and the use of relevant curriculum slightly higher than their female counterparts, while female principals viewed the effect of PLTW more positively than males related to teaming with mathematics and science faculty. However no significant differences were noted based on principals’ gender.

Principals with a longer tenure at their school (M =4.88, SD = 0.322, n = 17) noted a higher positive effect of PLTW on their teachers’ motivation and enthusiasm than those with less than five years tenure (M = 4.63, SD = 0.496, n = 19). In examining the principals’ perception of PLTW by their age group, no significant differences were indicated. School administrators with over 21 years of experience (n =13) noted a higher positive perception of the effect

Table 4.
Effect of PLTW on Teachers

By Principals' Gender

Female
   
Male
   
Effect M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.50 0.535 8 4.82 0.390 28
Use of relevant curriculum 4.75 0.463 8 4.82 0.390 28
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.25 0.886 8 4.04 0.793 28

By Principals' Tenure

0-5 years
   
6 or more years
 
Effect M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.63 0.496 19 4.88 0.332 17
Use of relevant curriculum 4.74 0.452 19 4.88 0.332 17
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.16 0.834 19 4.00 0.791 17

By Principals' Age Group

less than 50
 
51-60
   
61 and over
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.77 0.439 13 4.79 0.419 19 4.60 0.548 5
Use of relevant curriculum 4.85 0.376 13 4.79 0.419 19 4.80 0.447 5
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.31 0.751 13 4.11 0.737 19 4.00 1.00 5

By Principals' Years in Administration

less than 10
 
11-20
   
21 and over
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.55 0.522 11 4.69 0.480 13 5.00 0.000 13
Use of relevant curriculum 4.82 0.405 11 4.69 0.480 13 4.92 0.277 13
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.09 0.944 11 3.85 0.689 13 4.31 0.751 13

By School Size

less than 500
 
501-1000
   
over 1000
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.80 0.447 5 4.69 0.480 14 4.83 0.383 18
Use of relevant curriculum 5.00 0.000 5 4.64 0.497 14 4.89 0.323 18
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.00 1.000 5 4.07 0.829 14 4.11 0.758 18

By Years in PLTW

1-2 years
 
3 years
   
4-6 years
 
Effect M SD n M SD n M SD n
Motivation and enthusisam 4.83 0.389 12 4.85 0.376 13 4.67 0.500 9
Use of relevant curriculum 4.92 0.289 12 4.77 0.439 13 4.78 0.411 9
Teaming with math/science faculty 4.08 0.669 12 4.31 0.751 13 4.11 0.782 9

of PLTW on their teachers’ motivation and enthusiasm (M = 5.00, SD = 0.00) than principals with less experience (n = 24) (M = 4.55, SD = 0.522; M = 4.69, SD = 0.480).

Data related to the principals’ perception of PLTW’s effect on their teachers related to their high school’s size noted no significant differences. Information related to the principals’ perception of PLTW on their teachers based on the number of years their high school had offered PLTW again noted no significant differences.

Overall Effect of PLTW

Of the 37 principals responding, 30 (81.1%) provided qualitative descriptions on the overall effect of PLTW on their high school; 93.3% of these school principals noted that PLTW had a positive effect on their high school. Table 5 presents the qualitative descriptions of these principals’ comments; only the main concept(s) of their statements are tabulated.

Table 5.
The Overall Effect of PLTW

Principals’ major statements
n
Students are challenged and motivated 11
General positive effect on the school 10
Teachers are renewed and motivated 9
Renewed interest in technology education 5
Articulated and focused curriculum 5
Engineering career focus 5

The principal of a large suburban high school commented, “I firmly believe that this program has had a dramatic and positive impact on our school, faculty, students, and counselors.” A principal from a smaller high school said, “It has been a very positive addition to our small school.” A second principal commented, “I can’t imagine not having it.” Another noted, “Our students are better prepared for engineering.”

One principal noted that “PLTW has been a great addition to our curriculum. It has been a course where students learned to think.” Another principal commented that his teacher “has been rejuvenated by this curriculum.” “I have seen a tremendous positive impact on the technology education department with PLTW. Teachers are enthusiastic,” was the statement provided by one principal. Another principal noted that PLTW “has energized an already super technology education staff.” Another noted that PLTW “has provided focus to our technology education department.” One of the younger principals stated that PLTW’s “most positive impact to date has been the work with teachers. They have come back renewed and are better teachers as a result of Purdue University’s professional development.

Conclusions

The results of this study indicated that Indiana high school principals have a very strong positive perception of the effect of PLTW on their schools, their teachers, and their students. These principals have indicated their positive perceptions of PLTW via both quantitative Likert-type scale ratings and qualitative open-ended comments related to PLTW. This research did not determine any significant difference between the high school’s demographics or the personal characteristics of these Indiana high school principals related to their perception of PLTW.

Principals noted a strong positive effect on their students’ motivation and enthusiasm as a result of offering the PLTW technology education curriculum. This positive effect on students’ motivation and enthusiasm was also noted as a positive effect of PLTW on their schools’ technology education teachers. The use of relevant technology education curriculum by teachers was also rated as a positive benefit of PLTW by this sample of high school principals.

The effect of PLTW on high school students’ critical thinking skills and their problem solving skills were also rated by these principals as a strong positive benefit of offering PLTW in their school. Principals whose high schools had offered PLTW three or more years noted a higher positive effect mean for both PLTW’s effect on success in mathematics (M = 4.48) and success in science (M = 4.48) than principals whose high school had just implemented PLTW (M = 4.09 and M = 4.10 respectively).

The qualitative responses from these high school principals provided a very positive reflection on the effect PLTW has on the high school environment. Principals noted that PLTW provided a very positive impact on their school’s students, teachers, and overall school culture. This study provides further evidence of the positive impact that PLTW offers schools and in particular the technology education discipline.

References

Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. (2005). The role of principal leadership in improving student achievement. Washington, DC: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Evans, L. & Teddie, C. (1993). Principals’ change facilitator styles in schools that differ in effectiveness and SES. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, GA.

Harris, E. L. (2005). Key strategies to improve schools: How to apply them contextually. Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hipp, K. A., & Huffman, J. B. (2000). How leadership is shared and visions emerge in the creation of learning communities. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

McCall, C. H. (2001). An empirical examination of the Likert scale: Some assumptions, development and cautions. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the CERA Conference, South Lake Tahoe, CA.

McCray, C. R., Wright, J. V., & Beachum, F. D. (2004). An analysis of secondary school principals’ perceptions of multicultural education. Education, 125(1), 111.

Nanus, B. (1992). Visionary leadership: Creating a compelling sense of directions for your organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nwanne, A. I. (1996). The perceptions of public school principals in the state of Texas toward selected United States Supreme Court decisions concerning desegregation issues. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service: ED 301921).

Praisner, C. L. (2003). Attitudes of elementary school principals toward the inclusion of students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 69(2), 135-145.

Project Lead The Way. (2005). About Project Lead The Way: An overview. Clifton Park, NY: Author. Retrieved from http://www.pltw.org

Reed, C. J., McDonough, S., Ross, M., & Robichaux, R. (2001). Principals’ perceptions of the impact of high stakes testing on empowerment. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.

Rogers, G. E. (2005). Pre-engineering’s place in technology education and its effect on technological literacy as perceived by technology education teachers. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 42(3), 6-22.

Rollings, P. C., Burnett, M. F., & Huh, M. (1996). Principals’ perceptions of non-traditional gender vocational teachers. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education, 12(2), 29-39.

Zargari, A. (1996). Survey results guide total quality management (TQM) course development in industrial technology, Journal of Technological Studies, 22(1), 60-61.


Rogers is an Associate Professor of Technology Teacher Education in the Department of Industrial Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. He can be reached at rogers@purdue.edu.


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