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June 1, 2005
Vol. 62
No. 9

Special Topic: The Journals That Administrators Read

Special Topic: The Journals That Administrators Read- thumbnail
Staying current with professional literature is an essential ingredient to a successful career. When SmartLeadership magazine asked leaders of various industries around the world to describe what helped them grow as leaders, one of the top responses—along with practical experience and mentoring—was continual learning through reading (Searcy, 2000). According to Harry and Rosemary Wong, education leaders should subscribe to at least one professional journal because it is “the easiest way to know how, who, and what is happening in education” (2001, p. 301).
This is easier said than done. Education administrators have limited time to spend on such individual professional development, much less to choose which content would be most useful for their purposes. Of the proliferation of journals out there—all with varying focuses, purposes, and styles—which ones do highly successful education administrators actually read? Who are the authors writing these articles, and where do they come from?
To help time-strapped education leaders answer these questions, in 2002 we conducted a survey to identify which journals are regularly read by professors and practitioners—and, by extension, which are most useful for these administrators. We also examined the professional profiles of authors whose work appears most frequently in these journals.

What Educators Read

To represent the general field of education administration, we selected survey participants from two groups: (1) K–12 principals of Blue Ribbon Schools for the 2001–2002 school year (Blue Ribbon Schools Program, 2002), and (2) chairs of university education administration departments. We selected 74 educators from the first group and 50 from the second group (all from institutions accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in the program areas of principal, superintendent, supervisor, and curriculum director).
To identify the publications most widely read by educators, we first looked at readership statistics. Using Cabell's Directory of Publishing Opportunities (2002), we compiled a list of education administration journals with readerships greater than 25,000. Twelve journals met this criterion and were included in the survey. The survey asked participants to select the top five journals that they routinely read, providing space for respondents to write in the names of journals not included on the list. The survey received a 50 percent response rate.
The top five journals cited by the survey respondents were (listed in rank order): (1) Educational Leadership (read by 93 percent of respondents); (2) NASSP Bulletin (read by 67 percent of respondents); (3) (tie) American Educational Research Journal and The School Administrator (both read by 60 percent of respondents); and (4) American School Board Journal (read by 42 percent of respondents). The fact that highly successful principals and education administration department chairs read Educational Leadership far more frequently than any other professional journal in this study indicates the magazine's high level of influence. Educational Leadership was also the most prolific of the five journals, publishing 2,617 articles between January 1993 and December 2003—outstripping by a significant — the number of articles produced by the other four journals and accounting for almost 40 percent of the total (6,651) articles published by all five journals during the 10-year period.

About the Authors

For each of the five top journals, we examined every issue published between January 1993 and December 2003 to learn more about the authors writing for these publications and about their affiliated institutions. To fulfill this task, we used a system developed by Rachal and colleagues (1996) that assigns productivity points to each author (and, by extension, to that author's institution) on the basis of the premise that each author's position in the byline is commensurate with the effort contributed.
To do this, we fractionalized authorship credit, awarding productivity points, according to the number and order of authors for each article. For example, we awarded single authors 1.0 productivity point. For articles written by two authors, we awarded 0.6 to the first author listed and 0.4 to the second. For articles written by three authors, the first author received 0.5, the second 0.3, and the third 0.2. Four authors received 0.4, 0.26, 0.19, and 0.15 points respectively. Five authors were awarded 0.37, 0.22, 0.18., 0.14, and 0.9. The progressively decreasing scores reflected the estimated input value of each author (Rachal & Sargent, 1995).
We found the authors' position titles particularly interesting. Because most university faculty members must publish if they want to climb the professional ladder—indeed, publication is a job requirement at the 151 universities designated “research extensive” as defined by the Carnegie Foundation (McCormick, 2001)—we assumed that the largest percentage of authors would hold the title of assistant professor or associate professor. The results of our study, however, indicated that full professors had written the greatest number of articles and accrued the most productivity points. As shown in Figure 1, authors with the title “professor” garnered a total of 697.81 productivity points. Authors holding the title of “director” (for example, director of curriculum, student services, or legislative services) accrued 602.69 productivity points. Every other position identified in the study fell far below the two top cohorts; the third-ranking cohort of authors, holding the title of "journal editor," accrued only 388.40 points. Although assistant professors and associate professors (ranked 4 and 5, respectively) had more entries than journal editors, they garnered fewer productivity points.
This finding leads to a seemingly counterintuitive conclusion: The higher one climbs in the university teaching hierarchy, the more productive one is in terms of publishing. Although attaining tenure at the university level is predicated on continued publication (Baughman & Goldman, 1999), the most prolific publishing group according to this study—professors—already have tenure and thus do not need to concern themselves with publishing for that purpose alone. Consequently, this study provides a provocative new qualification to the old adage, "publish or perish."
We also found it interesting that a significant number of articles were written by K–12 education professionals. Teachers were listed as author for 390 entries, and they accrued 244.66 productivity points. Superintendents had 234 entries and received 191.92 productivity points, and principals had 259 entries and accrued 188.27 productivity points. These figures show that education leadership literature is not the exclusive province of university professors; on the contrary, K–12 educators also have an active voice in the field.
Our next step was to allocate productivity points for institution (usually university) affiliation on the basis of the listed position of each author, using the same process we employed to assess author productivity. For example, we awarded an institution 1.0 point for articles written by a single author affiliated with the institution and for articles with multiple authors all from that same institution. For articles whose multiple authors came from different institutions, we applied the same point distribution used for authors—for articles written by two authors, the respective institutions received 0.6 and 0.4 points, and so on. The results (see fig. 2) are interesting chiefly because they show that the most prolific institutions were those designated "research extensive," meaning the institution confers at least 50 doctorate degrees across 15 fields each year (McCormick, 2001). It may be that the universities affiliated with the most prolific authors place emphasis on publishing and as a result are more successful in this endeavor.

The Well-Read Administrator

Most of the top-ranking journals tend to publish articles geared to address the needs of practitioners rather than in-depth research-based articles. This finding suggests that readability and the time required to read articles are important concerns to K–12 administrators—a logical conclusion considering the time constraints and other demands placed on them. The most frequently and widely read of these professional journals, Educational Leadership, probably also owes its high ranking to the fact that it publishes a higher volume of articles than many other journals, covers a broad range of issues, and includes articles from authors with diverse perspectives. Of the top-ranking journals, American Educational Research Journal is likely to be the one most read by university educators because it was the only publication listed that is generally regarded as exclusively research-based and that does not cater to practitioners.
Whichever publication provides the best fit, reading professional journals in the field of education administration is not just the most efficient and effective way for K–12 practitioners and university educators alike to stay abreast of current issues in school administration. It's a vital prerequisite.

Baughman, J. C., & Goldman, R. N. (1999). College rankings and faculty publications: Are they related? Change, 31 (2), 44–51.

Blue Ribbon Schools Program. (2002). Schools recognized 1982–1983 through 1999–2002. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Available:

Cabell, D. W. E., English, D. L., & Guarnieri, N. A. (Eds.). (2002). Cabell's directory of publishing opportunities in educational psychology and administration, volumes I and II (6th ed.). Beaumont, TX: Cabell Publishing Company.

McCormick, A. C. (Ed.). (2001). Carnegie classification of institutions of higher education. Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Rachal, J. R., Hemby, K. V., & Grubb, R. E. (1996). Institutional publication productivity in selected gerontology journals, 1984–1993. Educational Gerontology, 22, 281–291.

Rachal, J . R., & Sargent, S. F. (1995). Publication productivity of North American institutions in selected adult education journals, 1983–1992. Adult Education Quarterly, 45 (2), 63–78.

Searcy, N. (2000). How to grow as a leader [Online]. Available:

Wong, H., & Wong, R. (2001). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mount View, CA: Wong Publications.

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