Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why No Outrage over Principal Quality?

As teachers around the country start to head back to work, I'm starting to hear the same thing I hear every year from teachers I know: "my new principal is horrible".  But it seems like I never read anything in the news about principal quality: instead, everything seems to focus on teacher quality.  Bad teachers are absolutely a problem, but is it possible that bad principals are actually the larger problem?

Here in metro Nashville, a quarter of principals are new this year.  I'm not an expert on school leadership, but it's hard for me to imagine that most principals, like teachers, do more than tread water their first year.  While the new principals learn the ropes, the school climate hangs in the balance: too many moves in the wrong direction may result in teachers, staff, parents, and students becoming disillusioned by, or just flat out leaving, the school.

The research says that teacher quality explains a greater percentage of variance in student achievement on a yearly basis than does principal quality, which makes sense given the direct relationship one has with their teacher versus the mostly indirect relationship one has with their principal.  But in the longer-term, might a bad principal have a larger negative effect on a student than a bad teacher?  After all, a bad teacher can ruin a classroom, but a bad principal can ruin a school.