Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why Not Blame Principals and Superintendents?

I'm teaching a course in organizational theory this semester, and our textbook lays out some basics right off the bat.  Among these is that "The most common improvement strategy is upgrading management." (p. 9)

Which struck me because few in ed policy seem terribly concerned with it.  Sure, we have some mayoral takeovers and some turnaround schools and new charters of course need to hire new leaders.  But, in the grand scheme of things, I see little to no effort to seriously upgrade the management of schools -- at either the district or school levels.

Our attention, instead, focuses disproportionately on teachers.  I don't want to suggest that blaming somebody else would be particularly productive, but I genuinely understand why more people aren't blaming educational leaders.

The authors continue "Modern mythology promises that organizations will work splendidly if well managed."  Which also struck me, since I rarely here about a school needing only a great principal to succeed.  And, actually, outside of a few success stories (e.g. the KIPPs), I don't hear much of anything about great school leaders.

So I guess the flip side would be that people don't particularly credit school and district leaders for success either.

I should add one caveat to both of those conjectures, though: at the very local level (think of your child's school or your local district), I think educational leaders tend to receive a fair amount of scrutiny and both the flak and praise that go along with that.

At the national level, though, I hear almost nothing.  Concerted efforts to recruit or train more talented leaders are few and far between.  New evaluation and merit pay schemes for leaders have been quietly implemented some places, but received little attention.  And op-ed pages are silent about the need to upgrade our school management if we want to solve the civil rights problem of our generation.  Puzzling.


RDT said...

There seemed to be some interest in principals a few years ago -- I recall reading arguments that an effective principal was the key to school turn around.

But in many ways the current focus on test scores in teacher evaluation supports your view that leadership is being discounted -- the idea that principals might use test score data as one component of evaluation doesn't seem enough for many reformers. The push seems to be to dictate a formula rather than trusting a supervisor's judgment.

RDT said...

And being a little more cynical, it sometimes seems that many education reformers are frustrated by the complexity of the educational process and educational institutions -- as if they view all the layers of interactions between the reform leader and the student consumer are problematic and not to be trusted.

Roger Sweeny said...

1. Everyone has been a student, and from the student perspective, just about everything revolves around the teacher. The school seems to run itself. Ask a student, "what does a principal do all day?" and they won't be able to come up with much. Ask a voter the same question twenty years later, and they won't be able to come up with much, either.

2. Political rhetoric is all about teachers. The organized teaching profession has been fine with this, and indeed has contributed to it: "We must provide teachers adequate resources (defined by the teachers)." "We must pay teachers adequately." "We must train teachers well."

Roger Sweeny said...

Since you're a new assistant professor, and I assume have to "publish or perish," there might be a publishable article in testing my assertion 1 above.

Anonymous said...

An effective school leader is imperative regarding school development (of note, I am just a teacher). What do others feel are necessary characteristics a school leader must possess in order to create a successful school?