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How do Primary and Secondary Education Administrator Roles Differ?

Education administrators at the elementary and secondary levels face many of the same challenges. School budgets are being slashed across the country, and it’s up to administrators to figure out how to do more with less. Administrators are also responsible for ensuring that their school’s course curriculum meets state and federal benchmarks, as well as achievement measurement and behavior management. It’s no wonder skilled administrators are in demand equally among primary and secondary learning institutions, nor is it any wonder how or why an educational leadership degree can be a stepping stone for a variety of administrative roles at all levels of learning.

Elementary and secondary school principal positions are similar when you look at the big picture, but there are major differences between primary and secondary school principals. In this article we will explore some of the major differences between primary and secondary education administrators.

Behavior Management and Discipline
Behavior management is a vital task for educators at every level. Teachers and principals alike work hard to create a safe and distraction-free learning environment that facilitates academic success for students. Discipline tends to be a more serious task for administrators at the secondary level. This is largely due to the fact that older students tend to test boundaries more vigorously, while also acquiring more freedoms. This combination makes it easier for middle and high school students to make poor choices with far-reaching consequences.

Parent Communication and Involvement
Elementary-aged children are still learning what it means to be successful students. They require more coaching, assistance, and feedback than middle and high school students. Parents of children in elementary schools tend to spend more time communicating with teachers than the parents of older children. This is also true for elementary administrators, especially when it comes to ongoing problems with behavior, discipline, and academic performance. Parent involvement and engagement, at least with respect to the parent-principal relationship, is typically not as involved at the middle and high school levels as it is in elementary schools.

Student Populations
In many parts of the country, elementary schools tend to be far smaller than the high schools they feed into. A secondary principal may have 10 times as many students under his or her supervision than the principal at an elementary school down the street. The difference can be partially explained by the fact that young children require more constant supervision, repetition, and reinforcement than older students.

Shared Duties and Responsibilities
The truth is that primary and secondary education administrators are similar in more ways than they are different. Although the school environments and student populations vary, principals at all levels are ultimately concerned with the same outcomes—better teaching and better learning. Effective primary and secondary administrators share a number of key responsibilities, including:

• Closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students
• Creating a healthy school environment in which learning is at the center of all daily activities
• Improving the quality of teaching and learning
• Leading and influencing staff members to achieve the school’s goals

Primary and Secondary Administration Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of elementary, middle, and high school principals is projected to grow 6% through 2024. The average salary for these positions was $89,540 in May 2014. A majority of school principals have at least a master’s-level education (66% according to so going back to school can make you a more competitive job candidate for primary and secondary education administration positions across the country.

No matter which level of education administration you choose to pursue, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s online M.A. in Educational Leadership will help you reach your goal. The program’s in-depth curriculum will prepare you to lead and make a difference in the lives of others at the elementary, middle, or high school level. Although this is not a license-bearing degree, in most states a graduate-level school leadership degree is needed to qualify for an administrative license, which the Master’s in Educational Leadership satisfies. Interested students are encouraged to check with their state’s Department of Education for specific school leadership licensing requirements.

Check out the “How Educators Use Technology and Data to Guide Teaching and Learning” free eBook.