Angry, Frustrated, Humiliated School Leaders: Accountability-Driven Supervision Alienates Principals Even More Than Teachers.

There’s nothing like sitting at a meeting and listening to someone who taught for two years with Teacher for America telling you how you should run your school.  (Anonymous principal)

The Met Life Survey  reports a dim view of teacher job satisfaction and prospects for improvement, The New York Times summarizes the Survey,

The slump in the economy, coupled with the acrimonious discourse over how much weight test results and seniority should be given in determining a teacher’s worth, have conspired to bring morale among the nation’s teachers to its lowest point in more than 20 years …

More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989 …roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four.

About 40 percent of the teachers and parents surveyed said they were pessimistic that levels of student achievement would increase in the coming years, despite the focus on test scores as a primary measure of quality of a teacher’s work.

If you think teachers and parents are pessimistic you should speak with school leaders.  In New York City, and I suspect in urban school districts around the country the economists have replaced the educators. Today the “key” degrees for school district policy makers are a master’s degree in public policy, an MBA or a stint at the Broad Superintendent’s Academy .

Numbers rule the world of education.

Value-added teacher ratings drive principal evaluations, compliance reports and an increasingly dense School Progress Reports, numbers, numbers, numbers. High Schools (i.e., principals) will be rated on the number of kids who get into college and their college retention rate.

My kids are really, really poor, they get into college and don’t go … many have to work and have trouble paying the tuition and other costs … does that make us an unsuccessful school? (High school principal)

Another metric is the number of college level courses you offer, excluding Advanced Placement and College Now. Screened schools with high achieving kids offer a wide range of high level courses, schools with unscreened kids who enter high school reading and computing years below their grade struggle to bring kids up to grade level by graduation. Dollars are spent on keeping class size low, offering tutorials after school, weekend sessions and increased guidance services. Every new elective course has a price tag. (20% of an annual teacher salary).

The metrics impact the progress report which impacts the Principal Performance Review , the dense document by which principals are evaluated. Teachers are rated either “S” or “U,” principals have had to meet measurable “goals and objectives” based primarily on the performance of the school.

The evaluation rubric currently in place, known as the Principal Performance Review, assigns principals a rating based on their school’s score on the city progress report, the results of their school’s most recent “Quality Review,” how well they met the “goals and objectives” they set out, and their compliance with city policies. In all, 85 percent of the PPR is based on academic performance

The principal section of the teacher-principal evaluation law changes the entire system, and, places the burden on superintendents, who have been seriously underemployed since the network system was put in place. Gotham Schools describes the new system,

Under the new system, a full 60 percent of principals’ evaluations must be based on “subjective” measures, those other than students’ academic performance, the same as is required in teachers’ evaluations. At least 31 percent must come from superintendents’ annual observations of principals.

… the city’s quality review rubric isn’t one of the state’s permitted models for principal observations.

So under the new evaluation system, superintendents who have conducted only a handful of reviews each year to look at school-wide issues will have to conduct dozens of them for the purposes of rating principals — and they’ll have to do each of them twice. According to last month’s evaluation deal, superintendents will have to conduct two observations for each principal she supervises, one unannounced. District superintendents maintain portfolios of 30 to 40 schools, and the city’s six high school superintendents manage nearly 100 schools each.

Yet another sea change: seemingly every few months there is another major initiative and every few years a sweeping system-wide reorganization.

The decision to remove principals in the 33 turnaround schools, regardless of their progress report score is another example is lashing the staff to improve morale.

The literature describing leadership is extensive (see examples here  and here ). The Department has chosen to ignore the literature and create an accountability-driven system based almost entirely upon numerical goals, state test scores and graduation rates.

I am not denigrating the importance of measuring outcomes, the path to the outcomes are more important if you want sustainable results. Results at any cost do not build effective systems. The vast majority of principals are dedicated, hardworking and conscientious; the few that are inept sully the reputation of the many. The Department only cares about the end product, the data, and allows  inept principals, the bullies, to survive (See NY Teacher story about PS 90).

A principal mused,

When I enter Tweed I sometimes think I see a famous quotation chiseled above the archway,

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“, (Dante)


5 responses to “Angry, Frustrated, Humiliated School Leaders: Accountability-Driven Supervision Alienates Principals Even More Than Teachers.

  1. You have illuminated another big piece of the puzzle. The amount of new reporting that pricipals must do is staggering. The new policies for reporting on special ed services(SESIS) requires hours of training and hours in front of a computer for principals, (Is it still called “paper” work?). This is aside from all of the ordinary daily paper work they must complete. How exactly are they finding the time to interact with students and staff? When will they observe their teachers? How do they have the time for all those downtown meetings with the Networks and trips to Tweed?
    No one’s job is secure. How can people give their best in such a hostile work enviorment? How hard can you squeeze a stone til you realize it will not bleed? Poor kids…..


  2. “the path to the outcomes are more important if you want sustainable results. Results at any cost do not build effective systems.”

    A numbers based, high stakes system encourages gaming the system to get a good grade. We have seen this in the cheating scandals and most recently in the audit that found 55 of 60 high schools, 92%, had awarded credits that students might not have earned. The DOE response that they will retrian the principals on the rules is clearly inadequate when 92% of the audited schools may be cheating.

    In what business in the corporate world (other than Wall Street) is a 92% cheating rate acceptable? Who are we ultimately cheating? Who suffers when students graduate without the necessary skills for the workplace or college? The current system is designed to keep cheating our students, putting them last not first in the evaluation equations that determine outcomes for schools, administrators and teachers.

    The path to sustainable results is one rooted in meaningful professional dialogue about what is happening and how to make improvements. It is rooted in discussions of the standards, not the flawed test scores, students must achieve and the path to help each student get to the standard, The corporate educational deform movement has reified test scores over meaningful outcomes and by doing so has cheated students and society.

    Education is poised on the brink of a collapse like the economic bubble that burst in 2008. We need educational leaders who have taught long enough to master the craft of teaching and are committed to teaching thers what they learned, not corporate managers and accountants who only know how to add and subtract numbers that have no real meaning.


  3. Pingback: Bookmarked: Educational Leadership 03/13/2012 « Steve J. Moore

  4. Olivia Koppell

    The best measure of a principal is what his/her students and teachers think of him/her. Everyone is asking the wrong people the wrong questions. Students want teachers who are passionate about teaching their subject. Teachers and students want principals who create the conditions for that kind of teaching and learning to thrive. It’s obvious to anyone when those conditions exist.


  5. I’ve been a principal for twenty-nine years… city and suburbs, public and private, kindergarten through high school, including one of the to 50 as rated by Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Wall Street Journal. Each year in September I sit down with each of my teachers and develo 5-7 goals, mutually agreed upon in the context of what students and schedule the teacher is working with that year. At least one or two of those goals is data driven, based on an external assessment if available. The others are anecdotally evaluated and encouraging of experimentation and professional growth. All of these goals are in line with the school goals as set out by the me at the start of the year to the entire faculty and school community. These goals are monitored and supported throughout the year by observation, conference, and tsudent work product. They are the basis for an elaborate end of year evaluation that celebrates the teacher’s successes, critiques shortcomings, and makes recommendations for the future… written in paragraphs with the care of an interested supervisor who knows his teachers well and has a vision for where he wants each rofessional in his building to take his students.

    This system requires a lot of work but has succeeded for me and my schools for almost thirty years. There’s lots of data, for sure, but not at the exclusion of meaningful conversation and high standards for teachers that treats each educator as a professional not a fearful, widget producer.


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