Frontiers of Education in China

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 422–452 | Cite as

Portraits of Principals in Chinese Urban and Rural Schools: A Comparative Analysis

  • Zhixin SuEmail author
  • Jody Dunlap
  • Huixian Xia
  • Jian Wang
  • Dan Mao
Research Article


This paper reports findings from a comparative study of urban vs. rural school principals in China. It is an extension and replication of an earlier study on the profiles and preparation of school leaders in the US and China. The study illustrates modern portraits—demographic characteristics of urban and rural principals in China, explores their entry perspectives and examines their professional commitment to principalship as a lifelong career. Findings from the comparative study indicate that urban and rural school principals in China differ greatly in their profiles and characteristics. They share similar intrinsic or extrinsic reasons for becoming principals, but they also vary on some key reasons. Unfortunately, most of the principals in our study are not firmly committed to principalship as a lifelong career because of a range of disturbing factors. Findings from this study shed new light on the profiles and preparation of educational leaders in China and offer thoughtful recommendations for change to both Chinese and international education community.


Chinese education school principals urban education rural education 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, J. P. (1987). Superintendents and effective schools (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of California, Santa Barbara, USA.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, J. P. (1999). Good principals, good schools. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 29(1), 8–11.Google Scholar
  3. Bai, Y., Mo, D., Zhang, L., Boswell, M., & Rozelle, S. (2016). The impact of integrating ICT with teaching: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial in rural schools in China. Computers & Education, 96, 1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baltzell, D. C., & Dentler, D. A. (1983). School principal selection process: Five case studies. Washington, National Institute of Education, ED319107. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  5. Barson, M. A. (1990). A preliminary investigation of superintendents’ perceptions regarding recruitment and selection of principals. Technical Report. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama. ED3279730. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  6. Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blase, J., Blase, J., & Phillips, D. Y. (2010). Handbook of school improvement: How high-performing principals create high-performing schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boser, U. (2014). Teacher diversity revisited: A new state-by-state analysis. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  9. Cao, F. (2018). 上海参事叶澜: 她构建了中国自己的基础教育改革学派 [Shanghai Consultant Ye Lan: She created China’s own basic education reform school]. 上观新闻 [Shangguan News]. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  10. Carver-Thomas, D. (2018). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  11. Chen. Y. (2016). 变革型领导视角下的校长性别差异分析——基于A、B 两个校长的个案 比较 [Under the lens of transformational leadership: An analysis of gender differences in principals A & B] (Unpublished master thesis). 南京师范大学, 南京, 中国 [Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China].Google Scholar
  12. Chen, Y. Y., & Feng, S. Z. (2013). Access to public schools and the education of migrant children in China. China Economic Review, 26, 75–88. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chinese Rural Education Development Research Institute. (2017). 中国农村教育发展报告 2017 [Chinese rural education development report 2017]. 东北师范大学, 长春, 中国 [Northeast Normal University, Changchun, China].Google Scholar
  14. Choy, S. P. (1993). America’s teachers: Profile of a profession. Collingdale, PA: Diane Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  15. Cranston, N. (1996). An investigation of the skills, knowledge and attitudes of principals. Practising Administrator, 18(3), 4–7.Google Scholar
  16. Cui, F. F., & Hong, X. M. (2010). 我国学前教育发展区域不均衡: 现状、原因与建议 [The unbalanced regional development of preschool education in China: Status, causes and suggestions]. 教育发展研究 [Exploring Education Development], (24), 20–24.Google Scholar
  17. Dillard, C. (1994). Beyond supply and demand: Critical pedagogy, ethnicity, and empowerment in recruiting teachers of color. Journal of Teacher Education, 45(1), 9–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dorning, J. (2016). School administrators: An occupational overview. Washington, DC: The Department for Professional Employees Research Department. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  19. Freedberg, L. (2018). Despite progress, California’s teaching force far from reflecting diversity of students. EdSource. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  20. Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership and sustainability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gao, Q., Mo, D., Shi, Y., Wang, H., Kenny, K., & Rozelle, S. (2017). Can reading programs improve reading skills and academic performance in rural China? REAP Working Paper, Stanford.Google Scholar
  22. Goodlad, J. I. (1990). Teachers for our nation’s schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  23. Gordon, J. A. (1994). Why students of color are not entering teaching: Reflections from minority teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 45(5), 346–353. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. King, S. H. (1993). Why did we choose teaching careers and what will enable us to stay?: Insights from one cohort of the African American teaching pool. Journal of Negro Education, 62(4), 475–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kleiman-Weiner, M., Luo, R., Zhang, L., Shi, Y., Medina, A., & Rozelle, S. (2013). Eggs versus chewable vitamins: Which intervention can increase nutrition and test scores in rural China? China Economic Review, 24, 165–176. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lee, V. E., Smith, J. B., & Cioci, M. (1993). Teachers and principals: Gender-related perceptions of leadership and power in secondary schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15(2), 153–180. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, CA: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  28. Luo, R., Shi, Y., Zhou, H., Yue, A., Zhang, L., Sylvia, S., Medina, A., & Rozelle, S. (2015). Micronutrient deficiencies and developmental delays among infants: Evidence from a cross-sectional survey in rural China. BMJ Open, 5(10), 1–8. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Luo, R., Wang, X., Zhang, L., Liu, C., Shi, Y., Miller, G., Rozelle, S., Yu, E., & Martorell, R. (2011). High anemia prevalence in western China. Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, 42(5), 1204–1213.Google Scholar
  30. Mendels, P. (2012). The effective principal: Five pivotal practices that shape instructional leadership. Journal of Staff Development, 33(1), 54–58.Google Scholar
  31. Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. (MOE). (2017a). 2017 年全国教育 事业发展统计公报 [Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2017 National Education Development]. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  32. MOE. (2017b). 中小学校领导人员管理暂行办法 [Interim measures of management of secondary and elementary school administrators].Google Scholar
  33. National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and National Association of Elementary School Principals. (NAESP). (2013). Leadership matters: What the research says about the importance of principal leadership. Reston, VA: NASSP & Alexandria, VA: NAESP.Google Scholar
  34. National Center for Educational Statistics. (NCES). (2011). Schools and staffing survey. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  35. Ning, B., & Zhang, M. X. (2018). 初中校长的性别结构和领导风格: 以上海市为例 [The change of gender structure and leadership of principals in junior high schools: An exploration in Shanghai]. 全球教育展望 [Global Education], 47(2), 31–38.Google Scholar
  36. Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. (OECD). (2019). TALIS 2018 results (Volume I): Teachers and school leaders as lifelong learners. Paris, France: TALIS, OECD Publishing. Google Scholar
  37. Richardson, M. D., & Prickett, R. L. (1994). Recognizing how adults learn: Implications for principals. NASSP Bulletin, 78(558), 85–89. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sergiovanni, T. J. (1991). The principalship. Boston, CA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  39. Sirotnik, K. A. (1988). The study of the education of educators: Methodology. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(3), 241–47.Google Scholar
  40. Su, Z. (1992). Sources of influence in preservice teacher socialization. Journal of Education for Teaching, 18(3), 239–258. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Su, Z. (1996). Why teach? Profiles and entry perspectives of minority students as becoming teachers. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 29(3), 117–133.Google Scholar
  42. Su, Z., Adams, J. P., & Mininberg, E. (2000). Profiles and preparation of urban school principals: A comparative study in the United States and China. Education and Urban Society, 32(4), 455–480. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Su, Z., Gamage, D., & Mininberg, E. (2003). Professional preparation and development of school leaders in Australia and the USA. International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, 4(1), 42–59.Google Scholar
  44. Su, Z., Goldstein, S., Suzuki, G., & Kim, T. (1997). Socialization of Asian Americans in human service professional schools: A comparative study. Urban Education, 32(2), 279–303. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Thomson, S. D. (Ed.). (1993). Principals for our changing schools: Knowledge and skill base. Fairfax, VA: National Policy Board for Educational Administration.Google Scholar
  46. Wang, D. (2013). The demoralization of teachers: Crisis in a rural school in China. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  47. Waters, T., Marzano, R., & McNulty, B. (2003). Balanced leadership: What 30 years of research tells us about the effect of leadership on student achievement. Working Paper. McREL International.Google Scholar
  48. Wong, K. C., Law, W. W., Wang, H. H., Fwu, B. J., & Wu, S. H. (2004). Leadership in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan schools: A tale of three Chinese cities. Paper presented at the CCEAM Conference, Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  49. Wu, K. B., Young, M. E., & Cai, J. (2012). Early child development in China: Breaking the cycle of poverty and improving future competitiveness. World Bank Publications, Washington, D C.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yi, H., Zhang, L., Ma, X., Congdon, N., Shi, Y., Pang, X., Zeng, J., Wang, L., Boswell, M., & Rozelle, S. (2015). Poor vision among China’s rural primary school students: Prevalence, correlates and consequences. China Economic Review, 33, 247–262. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yu, C. (2018). 中小学校长任职资格制度研究 [A study of school principal qualification system] (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). 东北师范大学, 长春, 中国 [Northeast Normal University, Changchun, China].Google Scholar
  52. Yu, Y. H., & Chen, S. H. (2007). Equality of preschool education from the perspective of public resource distribution. Early Childhood Education, 4(1), 22–24.Google Scholar
  53. Yue, A., Tang, B., Shi, Y., Tang, J., Shang, G., Medina, A., & Rozelle, S. (2018). Rural education across China’s 40 years of reform: Past successes and future challenges. China Agricultural Economic Review, 10(1), 93–118. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zeng, J., Pang, X., Zhang, L., Medina, A., & Rozelle, S. (2014). Gender inequality in education in China: A meta-regression analysis. Contemporary Economic Policy, 32(2), 474–491. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zhang, X. (2010). “女人教书男人管校” 现象探析——女性在学校管理中的应为与难为 [Analysis of the phenomenon of “women teach and men manage”: What women should do and not do in school management]. 教育发展研究 [Exploring Education Development], (8), 30–36.Google Scholar
  56. Zhao, Q., Yu, X., Wang, X., & Glauben, T. (2014). The impact of parental migration on children’s school performance in rural China. China Economic Review, 31, 43–54. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zhou, H., Mo, D., Zhou, C., Medina, A., Zhang, L., Rozelle, S., & Shi, Y. (2016). The gender gap among school children in poor rural areas of western China: Evidence from a multi-province dataset. International Journal for Equity in Health, 15(1), 162–173. doi: 10.1186/s12939-016-0442-5CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhixin Su
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jody Dunlap
    • 1
  • Huixian Xia
    • 2
  • Jian Wang
    • 2
  • Dan Mao
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Educational Leadership and Policy StudiesCalifornia State UniversityNorthridgeUSA
  2. 2.College of EducationShanghai Normal UnviersityShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations