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?”

In students’ words: Challenge us

When students who transfer from low-performing to high-performing high schools, they realize what they’ve been missing, writes Brooke Haycock in The View From the Lighthouse. It’s not enough for teachers to care about their students. They have to care about students’ learning.

At Elmont Memorial High School, teachers “get to know you so they can help you — so they can teach you,” says Keisha. “They’re, like, first your teacher — but your friend too. My other school, it was more like, they’re your friends but they kinda missed the teacher part.”

At Granger High School in rural Yakima Valley, Wash., George, a junior, reflected on his relationship with a math teacher at his old school: “He was really nice but he never made us do anything. And, like, if we were late for another class, even if it was our fault, we could just go by his classroom and he’d write us a pass. At the time, I liked it. And he was my favorite teacher. But now, I’m kinda mad, because I realize we weren’t learning anything. I don’t think he meant to do that — I think he was just more worried about us liking him.

“When educators can connect rigorous learning to student goals and opportunities beyond school and make students feel worthy and capable of real rigor, students don’t complain about the work or question its relevance,” writes Brooke Haycock, who’s writing Education Trust’s Echoes from the Gap series. It takes getting used to, students say. “In many cases, this is the first time they’re being asked to do anything that is genuinely hard.”

Some high school classes are easy and unfulfilling, say low-income achievers who talked to Ed Trust researchers for the Falling Out of the Lead report.

Actor David Duchovny’s high school basketball coach “respected me by demanding that I respect myself and a game,” he writes. “I never knew if he liked me. That wasn’t so important. He saw potential in me, and I began to respect myself.”

Poll: Teachers don’t get no respect

While nearly four in five Americans (79 percent) believe students respected teachers when they were in school, only 31 percent say students respect teachers today, according to a Harris Poll.

Parents and teachers used to respect each other, say 91 percent of respondents.  These days, only 49 percent said parents respect teachers and 64 percent said teachers respect parents.

When they were in school, 86 percent said teachers respected students, but only 61 percent say that is true today. Adults said administrators’ respect for teacher has declined too: 88 percent believe the administration respected teachers when they were in school, while 58 percent say that’s true today.

Teachers valued most in China

Teachers aren’t valued highly in 21 countries in the Varkey GEMS Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index. China ranks first in respect for teachers. The U.S. is about average. Israel is last. Except for China, high status for teachers doesn’t correlate with high academic performance. Greece and Turkey respect their teachers, but post low scores on international tests. The Japanese are low on teacher status, high in test scores.

Status isn’t linked to salaries. In Greece the status of teachers is high, but their compensation is low. In Germany and Switzerland, teacher earnings are relatively high, respect is low.

The Chinese compare teachers to doctors. Americans see teachers as similar to librarians. In most countries surveyed, teachers are equated with social workers. However, in France and Turkey, they’re seen as most like nurses.

teacher status findings

Pay-for-performance is supported strongly just about everywhere, notes John Merrow of Learning Matters TV. In the U.S., 80 percent said teachers should be “rewarded in pay according to their pupils’ results.”

While most people said teachers should be paid more, they didn’t know how much teachers earn. Americans think “teachers make about $36,000 a year but believe they should paid about $40,000,” writes Merrow. “However, the true average salary, the study says, is $46,000.”

Would you want your child to be a public school teacher? A third of Americans would “probably” or “definitely” encourage their child to become a teacher. That’s higher than in 14 other countries. Half of Chinese, but only 8 percent of Israelis, would urge their children to consider teaching. I always thought Finns were high on their teachers, but only 20 percent said they’d want their own kids to be one in this survey.

If there are any Finns — and Israelis — reading, does this ring true?

Loving to hate the ‘bad teacher’

“Bad” teachers are hot, writes Dana Goldstein. “The bad teacher has also become an overhyped target for our national anxiety about public education.”

In Alissa Nutting’s new novel, Tampa, a Florida middle-school teacher lures two eighth-grade boys into sexual relationships.

(Celeste) Price is a coldhearted nymphomaniac who, after feeding her sexual needs, wishes for the deaths of her victims. She is based on Debra Lafave, a real-life Tampa pedophiliac teacher — and former high school classmate of Nutting’s — who avoided jail time after her lawyer argued that she was too beautiful to get locked up.

. . . Though the writing in Tampa is pedestrian in comparison with Nabokov’s Lolita, the great classic on which it is based, it certainly represents a gutsy attempt by a young, female author to embody a wholly unsympathetic female narrator and probe the question of whether society lets women essentially get away with crimes for which men are excoriated.

Sexually abusive teachers exist, but they’re very rare, Goldstein points out.

Price, who’s depicted as a lousy teacher, has one ally, “an obese, ‘joyless’ woman who seems to hate children and eventually loses her job after cursing out students and throwing a chair,” Goldstein observes. Although most of the action takes place in a school, Tampa portrays no competent teachers.

The Cameron Diaz movie, Bad Teacher, will become a TV series about a “former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher” to find a new sugar daddy.  (Who looks for a wealthy husband in a school?)  It’s a “vote of no confidence” in teachers, writes Lisa Suhay on Christian Science Monitor.

The premise, which plays to every possible negative stereotype of educators and women, may make the grade with network executives, but it will set up middle- and high-school teachers for failure in the eyes of students who watch the show.

The movie teachers that “being a narcissistic, sadistic, incompetent teacher is cool” and “bullying is funny,” writes Suhay. Also, “competent teachers are socially inept, overweight, clueless, and timid.”

A sequel to the movie, Bad Teacher 2, is in the works.

Teaching Trayvon

Common Core standards drafters want inner-city students to reach high standards, but don’t want teachers to “link literature to our students’ strengths,” writes John Thompson in the Huffington Post. That doesn’t show respect for students, he believes.

If he was back in the classroom, Thompson would be playing Bruce Springsteen’s American Skin:

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says now on these streets Charles
You got to understand the rules
Promise me if an officer stops you’ll always be polite
Never ever run away and promise mama you’ll keep your hands in sight

The song always sparked discussion, Thompson writes.

In the first verse, Springsteen wrote from the perspective of the white New York City cops who shot a Nigerian immigrant, Amadou Diallo, 41 times thinking he had a gun, even though it was his wallet. “Forty-one shots, and we’ll take this ride, cross the bloody river, to the other side.”

The second verse was from the perspective of a black mother warning her son in case he was racially profiled. The third verse was from a universal perspective as we are “baptized in each others’ blood,” and a crucial change is made in the chorus, “Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it in your heart? Is it in your sight?”

Asked the source of Springsteen’s image of “the river,” a girl replied, “Langston Hughes!”

“Great,” I answered, throwing a copy of Hughes’ poems to her, “Support your answer.”

Kesha read, “I’ve known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers….”

When “curriculum alignment became the district’s gospel,” Thompson played the song during orientation to illustrate issues that would be studied in Government and help English teachers teach “repetition, point of view and metaphor.” A high level administrator objected. “Our kids don’t have time for Bruce Springsteen.”

Gallup: Teachers are happy, but stressed

U.S. teachers are happy with their lives but stressed on the job, concludes a Gallup survey. Compared to other occupation groups, teachers rank very high in emotional and physical wellbeing.

Teachers get more joy from life than people in other professions. They’re more likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot yesterday. But teachers also report high levels of stress, second only to physicians. Teachers rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are last –14th — in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.”

Flexibility, respect cuts teacher turnover

Rachel Spector quit teaching in low-performing, all-minority East Palo Alto (California) after four years, “squashed” by pressure to teach in a prescribed way to raise test scores.  “I didn’t feel respected.”

After a year teaching in San Francisco, which was even worse, she returned to teach seventh-grade English and social studies at Costaño School in East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood district. Principal Gina Sudaria promised, “As long as you’re teaching the standards and you’re teaching at a rigorous level, you can teach however you want to.”

“More and more, I’m the instructional leader of my classroom,” Spector says. 

Long plagued by high teacher turnover, Ravenswood is trying to keep good teachers by giving them more flexibility and input, reports the Peninsula Press.

Ravenswood teachers cope with big challenges — 77 percent of students aren’t proficient in English — for less pay than teachers in nearby affluent districts. Teachers start at $42,460, almost 20 percent lower than neighboring Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

 At Costaño, a K-8 school, Principal Sudaria uses peer coaches to help teachers learn from each other. She also stresses collaborative decision-making.

“Teachers are the ones who are doing the groundwork every single day, so their input and their knowledge needs to be highly valued,” she said.

The staff is divided into five committees that meet weekly on topics involving curriculum, safety and parent outreach. Sudaria said that allowing them to be involved beyond their teaching or support role gets everyone more invested in the school.

Turnover is down and the school’s Academic Performance Index score has increased from 612 to 783 in the past four years, nearing the state’s goal of 800.

When the teacher is wrong — and a bully

It’s illegal to disrespect the president, a North Carolina high school teacher told a student in an audiotape that turned up on YouTube. The social studies teacher raised the Washington Post story charging Romney bullied a high school classmate with long hair, reports the Salisbury Post.  A student responded that Obama has admitted bullying a girl in school.  (In Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that he pushed down an unpopular black girl in — I think it was sixth grade — after he was teased about her being his “girlfriend.”)

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” (the teacher) says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”

When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.

The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”

“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.

. . . Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”

The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.

“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. … They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”

The student is correct, of course. The teacher is . . . Sadly misinformed and a bit of a bully.

RESPECT for teachers (and their unions)

RESPECT, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching is the administration’s new competitive grant idea for education. The $5 billion would reward states and districts that work with teachers and their unions, education schools and others to remake teaching. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave no specifics, but Ed Week’s Politics K-12 suggests some possibilities:

. . . overhaul teachers’ colleges to make them more selective, create career ladders for teachers, give extra money to teachers who work in tough environments, bolster professional development, revamp tenure, craft evaluation systems, and make teachers’ salaries more competitive with other professions.

Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, is all for it.

A new $5 billion spending program has little chance of being approved, notes Politics K-12. The money is part of the $60 billion American Jobs Act proposal, “which is going absolutely nowhere in Congress.”

It’s an election year, and President Obama—and other Democrats—are expected to face a tough campaign season. They’ll almost certainly need help from the teachers’ unions blockbuster get-out-the-vote apparatus. Proposing a bunch of new money to improve the teaching profession might go a long way to assuaging educators—and their unions—who are less than thrilled with the administration’s focus on using student test scores to at least partially inform teacher evaluations.

Turn out the vote now, but will he respect you in the morning?