Dutch educators run their own schools

Dutch “educators decide what happens in their classrooms — not bureaucrats,” writes Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

An international school in the Netherlands.

An international school in the Netherlands.

“More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation” — and public funding, she writes. All schools can adopt their own teaching philosophy.  The “system functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.”

In the Netherlands, 94 percent of decisions for middle schools are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level, according to a 2008 OECD report. The country’s schools rank in the top quartile on international tests, well above the U.S., which falls in the middle.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade.

The Dutch government sets standards for what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. But there are fewer targets than those set by Common Core standards, writes Butrymowicz. And each school can teach in its own way.

“The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances,” she writes. “The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on.”

Teachers in charge

Teacher-led schools are challenging the need for a strong principal, reports Matt Collette on Slate.

A growing number of schools –70 now and more in the works — operate “more like worker cooperatives than traditional top-down schools,” he writes.

At Brooklyn’s Professional Prep charter school, Rafiq Kalam Id-Din is one of three “managing partners.”

Id-Din spends most of his time teaching fourth graders, rather than handling the “day-to-day administrative issues — hiring, discipline, staff and parent meetings — a typical principal might handle.”

Professional Prep is  modeled on corporate law firms. Other teacher-led schools hire a “principal,” but let teachers decide on policy and hiring. That’s how it works at Renaissance Charter in Queens.

Teacher-led schools “often find themselves trading convenience and clarity for flexibility and inclusion,” writes Collette. And sharing the principal’s job is more work for teachers.

What’s missing?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Good principals attract good teachers

Good principals attract, develop and retain good teachers, writes Dana Goldstein in Slate.

In our effort to help teachers close achievement gaps, let’s look beyond tenure panic, incentive pay, and even the Common Core. How about a new education reform push, one that focuses less on the individual teacher in her classroom and more on the principal who supervises teachers’ work?

. . . When McKinsey surveyed top teachers on what it would take for them to move to a higher-poverty school, they responded that the biggest draw, even more important than a raise, would be a respected principal who created a positive school environment.

Today’s principals are expected to be managers and instructional leaders, writes Goldstein.  An effective principal articulates the school’s mission and helps teachers improve their teaching skills.

When an excellent principal is hired at a high-poverty school, time for teacher training and collaboration increases, student test scores rise by 5 to 10 points annually, and ineffective teachers begin to leave — yes, even under today’s often overly restrictive tenure policies. When a good principal departs, the progress unwinds and student achievement drops.

Good principals “multiply the effects of good teaching,” she writes.

By contrast, superintendents aren’t all that important, according to a new Brookings analysis of Florida and North Carolina data.

Superintendents come and go without affecting student achievement by more than a small fraction, the report concludes.

Figure. Variance in Fourth and Fifth Grade Student Achievement in Mathematics Associated with Various Influences, North Carolina, 2000-01 to 2009-10

Why teachers quit: Working conditions

Half a million teachers switch schools or leave the profession every year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The churn is worst at high-poverty schools.

Improving working conditions will keep new teachers in the classroom, writes Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center.

The most frequently cited reasons new teachers give about why they leave center on dissatisfaction with working conditions like issues with classroom management, opportunities for professional development, input into decision making and school leadership. . . . (Teachers) are looking for a work environment where they are supported to improve by the administration, feel valued and are able to contribute in a collaborative culture.

Beginning teachers leave because they “don’t think the people they work for care about them or their efforts to improve,” reports the Carnegie Foundation.

High-quality mentoring and induction is effective, writes Moir.

‘Good apples’ need tenure

Teacher tenure is for good apples too, writes Arthur Goldstein in the New York Daily News.

A career-switching friend lost his teaching job after asking why his special-ed students weren’t getting the help they’d been promised, writes Goldstein. He didn’t have tenure.

Without tenure, I’d probably be in Harry’s place. I teach English as a second language, usually to beginners, at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

One year, I had two students who spoke English but couldn’t read or write. One had been kicking around city schools for years.

He had a strategy for pushy teachers like me. He listened intently and participated orally as much as possible. But when I sat him down and wrote words like “mother” and “house,” he could not decode them at all. I contacted his mother, who knew of his problem. I sought help in the building.

Around this time, I read an article in the paper about ESL. I called the writer to comment. The story of my illiterate students came up, and he asked me if he could write about it. I wasn’t sure. He asked me whether I had tenure. I told him I did; he said it shouldn’t be a problem.

After the writer asked the city Education Department about my two students, I was immediately summoned into the principal’s office. He heartily condemned my ingratitude.

He was “scrutinized constantly,” but couldn’t be fired, writes Goldstein, a union chapter leader.

Teaching “entails advocating for our students, your kids, whether or not the administration is comfortable with it,” he writes. Without tenure, teachers who stand up for their students will take a huge risk.

Only the bad apples need tenure, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.  “It’s admirable that Goldstein looks out for the kids in his care,” but “he is already covered under New York State’s civil service law, which provides rather reasonable protections against unfair dismissals.”

Wanted: Good principals

In Lacking Leaders, Fordham looks at how five urban districts recruit, select and place principals. Even in “pioneering districts,” needy schools often lose out on “leaders with the potential to be great,” the study finds.

In addition to better hiring practices, “districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role so that it is a job that talented leaders want and are equipped to execute successfully.

“The principalship “is a high-pressure, grueling job ” in which responsibility isn’t matched with authority, Fordham researchers write.

It also doesn’t pay very well. Pay principals an extra $100,000 to serve as CEOs, rather than “glorified teachers,” Fordham urges.

And like all effective managers, principals need the ability to build a leadership team, so their duties—from academics to discipline—don’t overwhelm them.

“Todays principals are in a senior management position,” says Dr. Chester E. Finn, Jr., a former assistant secretary of education under Ronald Regan and president of the Fordham Institute. “Demands are placed on them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are the CEO of the school.”

Raising principals’ pay won’t be enough if the job lacks respect and autonomy, adds Finn. “Who wants to be a top notch leader in a low notch job?”

Weaker teachers leave under new tenure policy

Ineffective teachers were more likely to leave voluntarily after New York City principals got tougher on awarding tenure, according to a working paper by Stanford researchers. After a new policy was adopted in 2009-10, few teachers were denied tenure but many more had their probationary period extended instead of receiving tenure.

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“Extended” teachers who were less effective — by principals’ judgments and value-added measures — were the most likely to leave, reports Ed Week‘s Stephen Sawchuck. They were replaced by stronger teachers, on average.

The district started supplying more data on teachers to principals, asking them to weigh performance observations, reviews of teachers’ lesson plans, and in limited instances “value-added” data based on test scores. And it began requiring principals to justify their decisions about whether to grant or deny tenure—particularly if it didn’t match up with the data. Principals could also extend the tenure decision for another year if they weren’t ready to make a final call.

The new policy improved the overall quality of the teaching force, the study concluded.

Teachers in schools with high concentrations of black and low-performing students were more likely to be “extended,” the study found. “We have a chicken-and-the-egg problem here,” said United Federation of Teachers spokesman Dick Riley. “Were people less likely to have probation extended because their kids are more successful, or is it the other way around?”

Newark principals sue over suspensions

Five Newark school principals suspended for speaking out against the superintendent’s school reorganization plan have filed a free-speech lawsuit reports the Newark Star-Ledger.

New Jersey took over the troubled district. Superintendent Cami Anderson’s turnaround plan is very controversial.

Four principals — H. Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue School, Tony Motley of Bragaw Avenue School, Dorothy Handfield of Belmont Runyan School and Deneen Washington of Maple Avenue School — were suspended with pay Jan. 17, two days after they spoke at a community meeting at a Newark church intended to oppose Anderson’s One Newark plan.

The principals work at schools affected by the plan. Hawthorne and Bragaw are targeted for use by charter schools and Maple is set to become an early childhood learning center. Belmont Runyon has been designated a “renew” school, which means new leadership will be installed and teachers will be asked to reapply for their positions. Brown’s school, Ivy Hill, is designated for “redesign.”

The fifth principal, Lisa Brown of Ivy Hill Elementary, was suspended for not heeding the district’s ban on Daryn Martin, the head of Ivy Hill’s parent-teacher organization who was escorted from the school Jan. 15 after he protested the removal of fliers he posted that were critical of the reorganization plan.

Motley, James and Handfield are now back to work at their schools. Brown and Washington will be reassigned.

“The school district has violated their rights and we’d like a judge to say that,” attorney Robert Pickett said. “Public employees have a right to talk about issues of public concern.”

Do principals have a right to oppose district policy and keep their jobs?

Principals spend 8% of time in classrooms

Principals spend 63 percent of their time in the office and 8 percent in classrooms, according to a Stanford study, writes Justin Baeder. Researchers started counting 30 minutes before the school day began and ended when students left.

In lieu of putting a whoopie cushion on the seat, Baeder suggests principals “get rid of your desk chair during school hours.”