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Fast-Tracking Non-Teachers Into The Principalship

If you were worried that we’re running out of proposals to fix education by taking it out of the hands of educators, rest easy. A House bill in Washington state would establish alternative routes to certification for principals, purportedly to address the shortage of qualified school leaders. However, a quick read of the bill reveals that it would place managers from other fields in principal positions with no required teaching experience.

While I am sympathetic to the logic that leadership in other sectors should translate to successful leadership in education, experience does not bear this out. Over and over again, I have seen noneducators who work in education make bad decisions because of their lack of teaching experience. These decisions have real consequences for schools, and they create more work for everyone else in the system.

The work of the principal is key in so many ways to the success of teachers and students. If people without teaching experience are allowed to become principals, the essence of this contribution—a deep knowledge of what contributes to excellent teaching and learning—will disappear.

I taught for four years before pursuing a position in school administration, and frankly, I’d be a better principal today if I’d spent more time in the classroom. Principals are expected to be instructional leaders, and should therefore be master teachers.

In this era of reform, principals are under increasing accountability to ensure the quality of teaching and learning in their schools, and this requires firsthand knowledge of what quality teaching entails. The last thing we need in our schools is strong, confident leaders who have no idea what they are doing.

If we need to increase the supply of quality school leaders, we should start by funding the State Leadership Internship Grant program, or better yet, creating a residency program that will pay master teachers to obtain principal certification. But nonteachers hiring, leading, supporting, and evaluating teachers? No thanks. —Justin Baeder


Q&A With Joel Klein on Education Innovation

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced late last year that he would be stepping down from his post and taking up a newly created position as chief executive officer of the Education Division at News Corp. Last week, I had the chance to chat with him about his new job and the promise of educational innovation.

RICK HESS: What will you be focusing on at News Corp.?

JOEL KLEIN: The education division’s guiding principle is that we’ve got to change from a 20th-century—or even late-19th-century—model of classroom instruction to a more individualized, differentiated model. We’ve got immense new opportunities to do this now. Much, much more digitized content is available today than was ever the case before. Technology and digitization offer a very powerful way to supplement a teacher’s delivery of instruction with multiple modalities.

We’re seeing this now at School of One, Rocketship Academies, Carpe Diem in Arizona ... and global models that are moving in this direction. Jeb Bush just held a major conference on this. But really doing this right is going to take private capital, a shift away from a standard one-teacher-and-30-kids classroom to a much more customized, differentiated model.

This is what we did [in New York]. I was at the School of One recently and was talking to an 8th grader who, midyear, was doing 9th grade work. Traditionally, that kid would be stuck doing 8th grade material and getting bored. There’s a lot that can help this happen. The Common Core [State Standards Initiative] will facilitate it, budget cuts will facilitate it, ... but it will take private capital to make it work. So, what we’ll be looking at will be highly data-driven, differentiated, customized, and looking to make much more use of software, virtual classes, and digitized lessons.

RH: Practically speaking, what’s the strategy for doing this?

JK: There’ll be acquisitions, some of it will be building and starting from scratch. There will be some joint ventures. That’s kind of what we’re looking at now. I’ve been talking to people and coming up with what I think will be a coherent strategic plan, but it’s still very much in process.

RH: What, if anything, should observers take from News Corp.’s decisions to get into education?

JK: We’re at a point, not just at News Corp., but more broadly, where sophisticated new software platforms are making possible highly interactive and individualized instruction. But I don’t think these things happen overnight. ... This is a time, right now, maybe stimulated by some of the budget issues, when these changes can happen. In the simplest terms, if you see some of the high-quality interactive programming that now exists, or if you see what’s happening with Florida Virtual, with maybe 250,000 students using it and apublic organization that’s making money—which is quite rare—then you’ve [got to think] that this an opportunity for dramatic change.

RH: What kind of changes do these efforts imply for schools and classrooms?

JK: We’re talking about a world where the digital revolution that’s hit the rest of the world now gets to take off in education, too. We aren’t talking about an adultless or teacherless world, but a world where the technological advances that have swept the globe start to take over education. And a lot of people, including in the private-equity world, are starting to think about that.

The more we can stimulate a view that we need to think about innovative delivery systems, the better. ... The teachers in these innovative programs [with new approaches to staffing, grouping, and instruction] are excited and energized. They tell me their work is easier and more rewarding, and it lets them build in the basics instead of just focusing on them. [Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma] Clay Christensen’s idea that we need to disrupt the class is a very powerful idea, and I give him a lot of credit for pushing it out.

RH: And any last words for folks wondering what News Corp. will be doing next?

JK: Tell them they should stay tuned. —Rick Hess

Vol. 30, Issue 20, Page 11

Published in Print: February 9, 2011, as Blogs of the Week
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