From Memphis to Boston

Boston’s new school superintendent, Carol Johnson, raised test scores in Memphis by firing principals of persistently low-performing schools and forcing teachers to reapply for their jobs, reports the Boston Globe. But the teachers’ union vows to block similar moves in Boston.

Johnson will inherit Boston’s strategy for failing schools that Michael G. Contompasis, outgoing superintendent, negotiated with the teachers union this year. Called “superintendent’s schools,” up to 20 struggling schools will have smaller class sizes, cash incentives for teachers, and other extras. But they will also face more demands, such as a longer school day and more teacher training.

Giving more money to unsuccessful schools rarely works unless the schools get new leadership at the same time.

Via Education Gadfly.

About Joanne


  1. Is the assumption that the removal of the principals and making teachers reapply by themselves raised achievement? It just surprises me those alone would raise achievement, rather than the changes in what the new staff did versus what the old staff that made the achievement difference.

    And if new staff behaviors really made the difference, couldn’t she require those of all present staff members and then fire anyone who didn’t do it for insubordination rather than for simply being employed at the start of the process?

  2. I don’t see why it’s surprising. The principal’s the only person who’s in a position to prevent, or at least reduce, district interference the classroom and also to gauge which teachers teach and which don’t. The principal is the only administrator with a job that’s pivotal to the performance of the school.

    Lousy principal, lousy school. Good principal, good school, maybe.

  3. A good principal is necessary, but not sufficient, for a good school.

  4. You might be surprised at the percentage of currently “good” schools with so/so principals. Although at good schools, a truly terrible principal might be removed in response to parent complaints, unless you are talking about a new school, a lousy principal can coast for a long time making bad decisions that are relatively narrow in scope.

    My school enjoys the benefits of good leadership, but I think the some other high schools in our system might be going down the tubes, and the quality of the leadership is a big factor. But right now, they show up as pretty high achieving.

    Certainly I agree that a good principal makes it more likely that a school will improve or maintain good performance. I think good leadership matters particular when you are trying to improve rather than just maintain.

    About the superintendent in the story, won’t she have the power to dump the principals but not make the teachers reapply? Do the unions also represent the principals? That seems really bizarre.