Cover: Principals Could Use More Support to Help Students with Disabilities — Especially in Schools Serving Mostly Students of Color

Principals Could Use More Support to Help Students with Disabilities — Especially in Schools Serving Mostly Students of Color

Published Dec 31, 2019

by Laura Stelitano, William R. Johnston, Christopher J. Young

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Research Questions

  1. Do principals feel that their schools could do a better job supporting SWD?
  2. How sufficient do principals feel their access to various supports is for helping SWD?
  3. To what extent are principals' perceptions of supports for serving SWD associated with the demographics of the students in their schools?

Principals play a critical role in ensuring that teachers are prepared to support the nation's 6.7 million students with disabilities (SWD). Little is known about the supports for SWD that principals receive from their districts and other sources, but, as with teachers, principals report feeling inadequately prepared to support SWD. A recent RAND report found that only 12 percent reported that, when they began working as principals, they felt completely prepared to support the needs of SWD. The American Educator Panels asked a nationally representative sample of 1,679 principals a variety of questions — including questions about the extent to which they have sufficient support for serving SWD. This American Educator Panels Data Note provides principals' answers to these questions and recommendations for policymakers.

Key Findings

Most principals feel that they could better support SWD

  • Most principals — especially principals of schools serving primarily students of color — believe that their schools could do a better job supporting SWD.
  • Principals of schools with more students of color reported having less-sufficient access to supports for serving SWD.


  • More information is needed about principals' specific needs for district leadership support and access to expertise, materials, and training (as well as other needs for support not covered in this survey).
  • Additional research into the discrepancies of support reported by principals of schools serving mostly students of color is needed to inform future improvements.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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