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.

9 comments:

Douglas Green said...

Part of the problem with educational leadership is that there are too many districts. There are over 700 in New York for example. This results in some districts having less than top notch leadership. Some Southern states have it better as with large county-wide school districts you have a much better chance to get an outstanding leader at the top. My favorite example is Pat Russo, the superintendent of Henrico County Schools in Virginia. (70 schools, 50,000 students) According to the staff I talked to, he is great person to work for as long as you perform at a high level.

mazenko said...

I've never known a good school to have a bad leader. And, as we talk about accountability, it has to start with the leadership. The issue of teacher retention starts with a principal.

One of the biggest criticisms of teachers - and unions - is that few ever seem to get fired. In Colorado there are few teachers dismissed - however, 99% of teachers have received satisfactory reviews in the past five years.

Whose fault is that?

Attorney DC said...

In my experience having taught in a variety of schools, there were few 'excellent' principals and likewise few 'horrible' principals (though of course there were some). What I saw instead were mostly overworked principals who wanted to do a good job but often had too much on their plates to handle things well.

For example, when I worked for part of the year at a large (1800 student) middle school, the principal had never once observed me teaching (not even a pop-in visit) by the time I left the school (although to be fair I believe an assistant principal or mentor teacher popped her head in the door once). Not the principal's fault -- just an outgrowth of the fact that with 1800 students and perhaps 100 staff members, there simply wasn't time to observe and evaluate each staff member in a limited amount of time.

My point is that some of the issues with principals stem from the structure of the job, not particularly from that one person as an individual.

Anonymous said...

I understand that some principals are overwhelmed but I agree that there needs to be more emphasis on the principal quality. My principal just got removed for years of bullying, poor leadership and poor budget management and she is now teaching at a different school in a far district. Does her new staff know of her past and the lives she has affected? probably not, people above cleaned up her past for her and just placed her at a new school. It's a vicious cycle and at the end the kids suffer.

Cory Bougher said...

Perhaps the issue is what type of people are pursuing ranks, such as principals and superintendents? I've noticed far too many "leaders" get a teaching degree, put in a few years and surfing up the ladder. It makes me wonder if educating students was their primary career goal or playing the political game at the top.

Rachel said...

It also seems to me that it will be very difficult to improve teacher quality unless there's also a focus on principal quality.

Most obviously, principals have a large role in hiring teachers. But in addition, the biggest fear teachers have about an increased focus on teacher accountability is will give too much power to capricious administrators.

Roger Sweeny said...

And why no outrage over superintendent quality? They are, after all, the ones who hire the principals.

Susan said...

Most principals are terrible because they are failed teachers who couldn't cut the mustard in the classroom or hated kids or are greedheads after the money and perks who happen to have political connections. Teaching quality is totally overblown. Teachers are held to all kinds of accountability, but principals are held to none whatsoever. Teachers are easily gotten rid of by these sociopaths and incompetents, but it is virtually impossible to fire principals.

Leon said...

It's because some focus on managing a school rather than LEADING a school. Also, some principals aren't in sync with their teachers--at all. Managing and leading are not the same. There's a principal in Baltimore named Tetra Jackson. She came with a focus of improvement, armed with much knowledge and ideas. What she didn't realize that her style of management was bringing the morale of the school down, SIGNIFICANTLY. When you have people dressing in black as if they're going to a funeral (and I mean teachers and staff), that's a sign righ there. What she did was rule with an air of Delores Umbridge. Teachers were talked down to about everything almost to the point of shredding them to tears. Principals need to be people who know how to LEAD and TEACH as well. A lot really seem to get caught up in the Matrix.