The role of the school principal in implementing a Pennsylvania state education policy designed to decrease school retention and special education placement for elementary students

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph B. Shedd


Placement, Principal, Retention, State education policy, Special education, Elementary students

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Special Education and Teaching


The purpose of this study was to explore how elementary school principals influence the implementation of a Pennsylvania state education policy that attempts to decrease school retention and special education placement, through the use of Instructional Support Teams (ISTs). Such teams are meant to address the needs of students considered to be at-risk for failure in the regular classroom. Although research indicates the principal is a key person in increasing instructional effectiveness and helping teachers address the needs of students, studies have typically not focused on the role of the principal in addressing the needs of students considered to be at-risk.

This study employed a multi-case study approach. Focus groups, interviews, and document reviews were conducted at ten elementary schools across Pennsylvania to elicit information from administrators and teachers. The results of five schools are addressed, and three of these schools appeared to have been effective in minimizing special education referral and placements, while two schools were less effective.

The schools that appeared to be more effective in maintaining and supporting students in regular classrooms were distinguished, in part, by the leadership of the school principal and other staff members in the IST process. Principals and superintendents supported the IST program in a variety of ways in the more effective schools, but this alone did not appear to be enough. The presence of teacher and/or principal leadership appeared to be essential to the IST's effectiveness. In one effective school, staff members provided most of the direct leadership for the IST program, while the principal provided behind the scenes support and resources.


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