Evaluating the principal

At the head of every successful school is a strong, savvy principal who hires, supports and retains good teachers. But the system for evaluating principals’ effectiveness is weak, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time.

Principal-evaluation methods vary widely — from observations to more formal assessments involving input from teachers — but are frequently not meaningful in terms of consequences. In fact, although less attention is focused on principals’ unions than on teachers’ unions, in many places labor agreements make it as difficult to fire low-performing principals as it is to remove teachers.

. . . And if that’s not disheartening enough, consider the report released last month by New Leaders for New Schools, a national non-profit that trains principals to work in challenging schools, which concluded that “most principal evaluation systems tend to focus too much on the wrong things, lack clear performance standards, and lack rigor in both their design and attention to implementation.”

Principals’ powers are limited. Often, seniority rights prevent the principal from hiring the teachers he thinks will be most effective. Despite multi-million-dollar school budgets, the principal may control as little as $60,000, earmarked for supplies, field trips and such, concludes Paul Hill, who leads the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

(Good principals) skirt or subvert personnel rules, figure out how to circumvent budget rules or raise additional funds and look the other way while teachers do things that are technically against various policies but in the best interest of students. Hill argues, however, that these kinds of deft, evasive maneuvers make it all the more difficult to assess their productivity — in terms of dollars spent compared to gains in student performance — relative to others.

The New Leaders report recommends basing principal evaluations primarily on student outcomes and holding central-office administrators accountable for principals’ effectiveness.

If accountability is good for teachers, it’s good for principals. But it’s not easy to figure out how to measure effectiveness and how to attract principals who are leaders, not just paper-pushers.

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  1. Just more code for “let’s add even more tests and use the school’s test scores to evaluate the principal”

    As for teachers having input on a principal’s evaluation, have never seen it happen or even heard of it happening.

  2. Well, yet another example that the jobs performed by staff in schools are too complicated to be boiled down to simplistic evaluations. Parents and staff know when they have a good principal, just as parents and principals can spot a good teacher. This is why principals will bend or even break the rules to help their school and teachers… because they realize how asinine many of the rules are.

    I worked with an experienced teacher whose sole method of teaching was lecture. Nothing else. No hands on, no constructivism, little student interaction except for paying attention. His grades were 80% based on his tests. And guess what… he was one of the most popular teachers in school amongst the students, consistently produced 98% passing on state assessments, could stop a fight with a single comment, etc.
    Yet he would receive top marks on his evaluations, which were of the check-off-the-100-categories type, despite only demonstrating maybe half of the requirements. He was a good teacher, the principals recognized this, and did everything possible to keep him doing his job well.

  3. Some time ago, I read that one of the skills that most better principals in New York city public schools had — was the ability to pass on terrible teachers to other schools.