K 12, principals, principalship, educational leadership, lawrence kohlberg, james rest, moral development, defining issues test, dit 2, moral leadership, moral reasoning and decision making


Previous research by Vitton & Wasonga (2009) and Strenth (2013) found public school K-12 principals struggling in the moral reasoning and decision-making measures of the second Defining Issues Test ("DIT-2"). In response to these studies, this research sought to collect, to examine, and to compare DIT-2 data for educational leaders at various stages of the principalship track in an effort to determine and/or to isolate the locus of principals' reported underperformance. The moral reasoning and decision-making of regular-education K-12 public school principals and assistant principals in Florida, and current master's degree students in educational leadership programs at a large public Florida university were measured and compared. Research questions were posed: 1) to find the levels of moral reasoning and decision-making reached by acting principals, acting assistant principals, and current master's students in educational leadership programs; 2) to determine if there was a difference between these principals, assistant principals, and master's students in moral reasoning and decision-making; and 3) to see if there was a difference in moral reasoning and decision-making between principals across various years of experience. The DIT-2 was administered anonymously to participants through an online link, and was scored by the University of Alabama's Office for the Study of Ethical Development. Data were analyzed through descriptive and inferential statistical methods principally to determine the degree to which participants reasoned and made decisions based upon personal interests, upon the maintenance of norms, or upon the basis of more sophisticated principles. Results showed master's students in educational leadership outperforming active principals and assistant principals in moral reasoning and decision-making by more often employing sophisticated principles and by more often avoiding choices associated with personal interests. With regard to principals, the difference was statistically significant on DIT-2 N-2 scores (based on ANOVA and t-test results) and P-scores (based on t-test results, but not based on ANOVA results). Principals not only underperformed master's students in educational leadership statistically significantly, but also underperformed active assistant principals in comparisons of group means on DIT-2 sub-scores. This research confirms the prior works of Strenth (2013) and Vitton & Wasonga (2009), where principals had been found to struggle in measures of moral reasoning and decision-making. These consecutive and consistent findings now require consideration, discussion, and action by the array of K-12 public school stakeholders. In response to the startling findings that K-12 principals are significantly underperforming those still aspiring for the principalship, a substantial, alarmed, and sober re-examination must take place as to what has happened to principals in K-12 public schools, and as to what can and must be done about it.


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Graduation Date





Murray, Barbara A.


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance


Teaching, Learning, and Leadership

Degree Program

Educational Leadership; Executive








Release Date

August 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Education and Human Performance; Education and Human Performance -- Dissertations, Academic