Education

Briefly Stated: March 29, 2023

March 28, 2023 8 min read
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Principals Report Leaving Jobs. Data Say That Might Not Be So

Did principals leave their jobs in droves during the pandemic? Probably not.

Researchers are still trying to figure out a definitive conclusion, but evolving data suggest that the answer may be no—or at least not everywhere.

A review of pandemic-era data on principals in Nebraska, Texas, and Pennsylvania from 2014 to 2022 found that attrition fell in 2020-21, the first full school year of the pandemic, and rose the following year.

The increase in the share of principals leaving the job in 2021-22, however, was not necessarily higher than in pre-pandemic years, according to the research, released this month by Edward Fuller, an associate professor of education at Penn State University, and Andrew Pendola, an associate professor at Auburn University.

Of the three states Fuller and Pendola studied, only Texas’ principal-attrition rate was higher in the 2021-22 school year than in the years immediately preceding the pandemic, Fuller said.

The data also show differences in attrition among the type of schools principals led and whether they were located in cities or rural areas.

While states have administrative data that give a window into principals’ movement in the pandemic years, they’re not readily available to the public, and national data on principal turnover and attrition won’t be published until the fall.

Fuller says states can’t get critical insights into what’s happening in schools or make nuanced decisions about how to address the challenges without knowing the depth of the principal churn.

“If you are a state and you don’t have this data, you are missing some really important data in terms of understanding your student achievement and your teacher- and employee-staffing challenges,” he said. “We know when principals leave, you have other people leaving, [too].”

A significant chunk of principals have reported in various surveys since the pandemic started that they planned to quit soon.

But no data so far have shown a mass exodus of K-12 school leaders. That survey data could be reflecting principals’ fears and frustrations during a tumultuous few years—not only due to the pandemic but also social and political arguments about elections, critical race theory, book bans, and other wedge issues.

Teacher-Apprenticeship Programs, Buoyed by Federal Funding, Are Booming Nationwide

Add money into the mix and see how quickly states jump on the teacher-apprenticeship bandwagon.

The number of states with federally registered programs for teachers has doubled in just six months, as policymakers and school district leaders look to the model to help overcome teacher shortages. It doesn’t hurt that registering programs with the U.S. Department of Labor opens up federal funding for tuition assistance, wages, and other supportive services, such as textbooks and child-care assistance.

An apprenticeship, or residency, program enables prospective teachers to undergo training through a teacher-preparation program while they work in schools and earn a paycheck.

The goal, advocates say, is to reduce as many barriers as possible so more people will become teachers, while still maintaining high standards of quality.

Tennessee was the first state to get the stamp of approval from the Labor Department in January 2022. By October, seven more states had gotten approval, and now, a total of 16 have at least one registered program for teachers.

Research on teacher-residency programs finds that program graduates tend to stay in the field longer than average. They are also more likely to be teachers of color.

The mentorship and coaching that residents get over a prolonged period of time—versus a semester, as is typical with most student-teaching experiences—is critical for long-term success in the classroom, said Elizabeth Stringer Keefe, an associate professor of graduate teacher education at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

Residency programs help “to make the connection between theory and practice,” said Stringer Keefe. “That has long been a criticism of the teaching profession—that [traditional] teacher preparation is too theoretical, and [candidates] need practice.”

Wealthier districts are able to offer higher stipends and salaries for residents than underresourced districts, which are often the ones that need well-trained teachers the most, she said. Having access to new sources of funding could help close that gap.

“This could be a really wonderful opportunity for the teaching profession as long as there are safeguards around the academic support,” Stringer Keefe said.

Texas Moves to Take Control of Largest District in State Despite Houston’s Many Improvements

Texas is seizing control of the Houston school district after the 200,000-student system improved poor accountability ratings for some of its most struggling schools.

State officials contend they have the legal authority to take over in part because of poor performance at one of the district’s 274 schools.

The state’s leadership is Republican while the city of Houston leans Democratic.

A school board has “a solemn responsibility to focus above all else” on serving all students, state Commissioner Mike Morath wrote in a letter to district leaders, notifying them of his plans. “It does this by ensuring its superintendent is positioned to provide a strong set of supports for district teachers and staff who work directly with those students, not just on some of its campuses, but all of them,” he said.

Morath said he intends to leave the current school board and Superintendent Millard House II in their current positions for an interim period while he recruits a new board of managers and a new district leader, who are expected to take their positions in June.

House, who has been in his role for less than two years, said that Morath’s announcement “does not discount the gains we have made districtwide.”

Despite those improvements, Morath argued that persistent problems required him to intervene.

State takeovers are a controversial strategy, particularly when state leadership differs politically from that of the community targeted. In Texas, some critics suggest state intervention will be used to spur the growth of charter schools and other alternatives.

Past takeovers in majority-Black districts have prompted criticism from racial-justice advocates concerned about local control.

About 62 percent of Houston’s students are Latino, 22 percent are Black, and 10 percent are white.

An analysis of state takeovers in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management found that, for majority-Black districts, racial makeup was more of a predictor of takeover than performance.

Researchers also found takeovers led to few academic gains, citing disruption of school and district operations associated with a change in governance and strategy.

Academic, Health Issues Beset Sleep-Deprived Kids

More than 3 in 4 high schoolers have given short shrift to sleep in recent years, which could make it harder for them to recover academically and emotionally from the disruption of the pandemic.

That’s the conclusion of new research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found students who averaged fewer than seven hours of sleep on school nights had much higher risk of difficulty with schoolwork and more mental health problems than teenagers who regularly got sufficient sleep, generally defined as at least eight hours.

Researchers led by Sarah Sliwa and Shannon Michael tracked data on adolescents’ sleep habits in a nationally representative survey from January to June 2021. They found more than 76 percent of students in that age group averaged four to seven hours of sleep a night.

Adolescents often cite homework or study sessions as among their top reasons for staying up late. The results suggest schools and families should help students learn to plan their schedules and sleep routines better.

While just over 37 percent of adolescents overall reported mental health problems during the study period, more than 55 percent of students who slept four hours or less a night and about 49 percent of students who got five hours of sleep on school nights were identified with mental health problems. By contrast, only about 25 percent of teenagers who got eight hours of sleep or more on school nights reported mental health challenges.

Prior studies have found adolescents have experienced more late-night screen time and worsening sleep hygiene in the last decade.

“Later school start times and information to families about good sleep habits and parent-set bedtimes might help support both learning and mental health,” Michael said.

Separately, the CDC has even encouraged high schools to make time for chronically sleep-deprived students to take afternoon naps.

Comedy Star, Charter Ally Trade Barbs Via Twitter

Can’t anyone get along these days?

One of the latest high-profile spats was between “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson and Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, the director of the Yass Foundation for Education—supporters of charter schools.

Brunson recently felt the need to set the record straight after Allen criticized her for attending charter schools in her youth, only to target them later in her hit ABC comedy.

Allen tweeted that Brunson “attended charter schools her entire education.” The tweet followed the airing of an episode of “Abbott Elementary” in which the show’s characters band together to keep their fictional school from being turned into a charter.

“She reportedly loved it at the time, heaped praise on it. Once upon a time,” Allen wrote. “Guess money talks.”

Brunson quickly fired back: Allen is “wrong and bad at research.” The actor added that she attended a charter high school but went to a public elementary school that later became a charter school “over a decade after I left.”

Additionally, the charter high school she attended has since closed, “which happens to charters often,” Brunson said.

“Loving something doesn’t mean it can’t be critiqued,” Brunson added in another tweet.”

Allen was far from through. In a thread responding to Brunson, she wrote that the school “closed because the district didn’t consider how deficient the education of the students coming in was and how much remediation and time was needed for them to recover.”

This wasn’t the first spat Allen has had with Brunson on Twitter. Earlier this month, Allen took offense after an episode of “Abbott” aired in which the teachers began worrying that a charter school operator in the show could take over their school. One character says that charters “take our funding, not to mention the private money from wealthy donors with ulterior motives.”

Evie Blad, Senior Staff Writer; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; Denisa R. Superville, Assistant Editor; Tribune News Service; and Madeline Will, Assistant Managing Editor contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2023 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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