Cover: How Can K–12 Principals Support Student Success and Well-Being?

How Can K–12 Principals Support Student Success and Well-Being?

Interviews with Parents to Support Equitable and Culturally Responsive Leadership

Published Sep 28, 2023

by Rebecca L. Wolfe, Elizabeth D. Steiner

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Research Questions

  1. What are parents’ hopes and expectations for how school principals are supporting the academic success and well-being of their (i.e., the parents’) children?
  2. What kinds of actions meet or exceed parents’ expectations of their child’s principal? What lessons can be inferred from stories parents shared about times a principal exceeded their expectations that align with the National Policy Board of Education Administration’s standard to promote equity and cultural responsiveness (known as Equity Standard 3)?

Whether principals are supporting students directly, providing resources, or partnering with families and teachers, the approaches that they take to ensuring that all students in kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) have what they need to achieve academic success and well-being matter for students. As public schools become more diverse and as the challenges confronting students become increasingly complex, so too grows the need for equitable and culturally responsive school leadership. Equitable and culturally responsive leadership requires principals to know who their students are, what each student needs, and how to meet these needs.

To explore the beliefs that parents have about how K–12 principals can best support the academic success and well-being of their children, the authors of this report conducted in-depth interviews with parents from diverse backgrounds and regions across the United States. Participants were recruited from RAND's American Life Panel. Parents and family members have unique insight into their children's cultural backgrounds, individual challenges and strengths, and community contexts. This report is part of a broader effort by the National Policy Board for Education Administration to help principals practice equitable and culturally responsive leadership.

Key Findings

  • Parents from across different contexts said that principals support the academic success and well-being of their children in three ways: improving teaching and learning, building familiarity and rapport, and supporting diverse groups of learners.
  • Most parents do not expect a lot of personal interaction with their child's principal. However, most parents hope that the principal is a familiar figure and that the principal has a friendly relationship with their child. Parents hope their child's principal will contact them directly if there is a concern.
  • When a student does need support, how a principal engages with that student and their parents can substantially shape the trajectory of that child’s school experiences. Parents said that these types of interactions are not typical, which is part of why they matter so much.


  • These findings are intended as a starting point to assist principals in reflecting on their practices through the eyes of a diverse group of parents.
  • Because equitable and culturally responsive leadership is context specific, principals should consult with members of their own school communities about ways they can tailor the findings and considerations provided in this report to meet the specific needs of diverse groups of students and families — especially students from persistently underserved groups — in their own contexts.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.