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.”

Observing teachers: Is it worth the time?

Teacher evaluation is off to a “bumpy start” in New York City schools, reports the New York Times. For example, PS 130 Principal Lily Din Woo and her assistant principal “are spending parts of each day darting in and out of classrooms, clipboards and iPads in hand, as they go over checklists for good teaching. Is the lesson clear? Is the classroom organized?”

All told, they will spend over two of the 40 weeks of the school year on such visits. The hours spent sitting with teachers to discuss each encounter and entering their marks into the school system’s temperamental teacher-grading database easily stretch to more than a month.

So, the principal and her assistant now will spend 10 percent of their time visiting classrooms, observing and giving teachers feedback on their teaching. Is that really excessive?

“Talent coaches” are helping and retirees may be hired “to pitch in at schools where the workload is heavy.”

Writing up observations, which must be “low inference” and aligned to the “Danielson rubric,” will be more time consuming and taxing than the Times estimates, predicts NYC Educator.

Minnesota is piloting a new teacher evaluation system that includes more classroom observation by the principal, reports Hechinger’s Tim Post for Minnesota Public Radio.

Pine Island, Minn. – Principal Cindy Hansen’s fingers fly across her laptop as she types notes in a corner of Scott Morgan’s classroom, watching as the special education teacher works with a kindergartner on her social skills.

This is more than a principal pop-in. Hansen and Morgan are part of a new, experimental kind of teacher evaluation. Earlier, they met for a pre-evaluation chat. Later, they’ll talk over the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and set performance goals. She’ll evaluate 70 teachers this way.

“It’s not meant to be a “gotcha” kind of a situation,” Hansen says later. “It’s really is meant to be a helpful kind of conversation.”

Beginning teachers will be observed three times a year for the first three years, while veteran teachers will be observed at least once a year, with a more thorough review once every three years. Student performance will count for 35 percent of overall evaluations. Student surveys also will be factored in.

Use of test scores to evaluate teachers is controversial. Now there’s resistance to principals evaluating their teachers’ classroom performance.

NY raises bar for future teachers, principals

Would-be teachers will need a 3.0 grade point average and higher test scores for admission to teacher education at the State University of New York. Standards also will be raised for prospective principals.

“The quality of New York’s higher education system depends on having the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms teaching our students,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “These new admission requirements will help ensure that we are recruiting from exceptional candidates to educate our state’s students.”

A new Education Trust report, Preparing and Advancing Teachers and School Leaders, calls for “requiring more useful information on teacher and leader preparation programs, promoting meaningful action to improve low-performing programs and sparking innovation in how districts and states manage educator pipelines.”

 “Large numbers of educator preparation programs all across the nation are consuming considerable amounts of public dollars and in turn are pushing out teachers and leaders that are underprepared to meet the needs of today’s students,” said Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust.

Ed Trust calls for changes in federal policy. To qualify for federal student aid, states would have to evaluate teacher and principal education programs on outcomes, such as “tying student learning to graduates.”

The American Federation of Teachers’ 2012 report, Raising the Bar,  had similar recommendations, the union says. These include “the need to raise the rigor of teacher preparation programs, support prospective teachers with effective clinical experiences to assure their readiness to enter the profession, and apply standards equally to traditional and alternative programs. Where we differ is on how to hold teacher preparation programs accountable.”

Training great principals

How to Train and Retain Great Principals in Struggling Urban Schools on PBS NewsHour looks at a Chicago campaign to recruit, train and support leaders who can turn around low-performing schools.

A movie maker’s 5 keys to school reform

I Got Schooled offers “five keys to closing America’s education gap,” courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan, known for making The Sixth Sense, The Village and a number of flops.

After he made a fortune on his early movies, Shyamalan funded scholarships for inner-city Philadelphia children, he told the Wall Street Journal, but decided they were “socially and academically unprepared for college” because,”they’d been taught they were powerless.”

He began researching education reform to come up with his five keys:  “Eliminate the worst teachers, pivot the principal’s job from operations to improving teaching and school culture, give teachers and principals feedback, build smaller schools, and keep children in class for more hours.” Doing just one, two or three won’t help, the filmmaker concludes. Schools need to do all five.

Reality-Based Educator on Perdido Street School says Shyamalan is a bad filmmaker with same old, same old ideas.

As Stan Freberg used to say:  “Everybody wants to be an art director.”

Videotaping helps teachers improve

At a low-performing Indianapolis high school, instructional coaches use classroom videotapes to help teachers improve their lessons and learn from colleagues, reports Scott Elliott in the Indianapolis Star. The Star is following the turnaround (it’s hoped) of Arlington High, which was taken over by the state after six years of very low test scores. EdPower, which took over the school a year ago, installed a camera in every classroom.

As a video played showing first-year high school English teacher Katie Bonfiglio at work, Spanish teacher Patrice Patton watched in awe.

“Wow, I’ve never seen those kids behave like that in my class,” Patton gushed, as she watched a room of typically restless ninth-grade boys fully engaged in a discussion of literature.

That’s just the reaction Paul Chin, Arlington High School’sassistant principal, was hoping for when he asked Bonfiglio if he could show her recorded lesson to about 15 of her colleagues.

.  . . (Bonfiglio) found the discussion with her peers so eye-opening she made changes to some of her other teaching routines.

As a teacher at a high-performing, high-poverty charter school in Newark run by Uncommon Schools, Chin recorded himself teaching so he could analyze his lessons and discuss the video with the principal. He shows Arlington teachers videos of teachers at his old school teaching effectively and helps them analyze their own lessons.

Video recording of teachers also can be used to evaluate teacher performance, which means it’s controversial. Indiana is requiring public schools to create teacher evaluation and rating systems.

Harvard researcher Thomas Kane analyzed 7,500 lessons taught by 1,300 teachers in six school districts for the  Methods of Effective Teaching Study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation.

“Digital video may be more valuable than an observer’s notes for allowing a teacher to “see,” literally, the strengths and weaknesses in their practice,” Kane said. “Someone cannot remember what they did not notice in the first place.”

Kane believes all teachers should record themselves teaching and submit “lessons they are proud of” for their performance reviews. “We would then train principals on how to use the video for evaluating and providing productive feedback to teachers.”

NY principals: Common Core tests fail

New York’s new state exams are supposed to be aligned with the new Common Core Standards, but a group of principals says they’re poorly aligned, unbalanced, take too much time and often confuse students.  

The English Language Arts tests focused mostly on one skill — “analyzing specific lines, words and structures of information text” — while ignoring other “deep and rich” skills.

. . . the testing sessions—two weeks of three consecutive days of 90-minute (and longer for some) periods—were unnecessarily long, requiring more stamina for a 10-year-old special education student than of a high school student taking an SAT exam. Yet, for some sections of the exams, the time was insufficient for the length of the test.

Students faced more multiple-choice questions than ever before, the principals complain. “For several multiple choice questions the distinction between the right answer and the next best right answer was paltry at best.”

The math tests contained 68 multiple-choice problems often repeatedly assessing the same skills. The language of these math questions was often unnecessarily confusing.

The principals also object to “putting the fate of so many in the education community in the hands of Pearson – a company with a history of mistakes.”