School & District Management

Principals’ Group Seeks Influence On Incentive Pay

By Christina A. Samuels — May 09, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School districts that want to start pay-for-performance programs for school leaders should look beyond high-stakes student tests as the primary measure for awarding bonuses, a position paper released last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals says.

Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based group, said the purpose of the statement is to place principals at the forefront of a school improvement trend that is getting a lot of attention.

While the NASSP does not endorse performance pay for administrators, “the key here is that we don’t want to sit on the sidelines while things are happening to principals,” Mr. Tirozzi said.

A number of local and national initiatives are focusing on performance-based pay for principals as a way to improve student performance, the organization said.

In 2005, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, a part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, found that 17 percent of 193 responding school districts had some sort of performance-based pay component, while 16 percent were considering such a system.

Many Possible Variables

The federal government has provided its own push toward such systems. In fiscal 2006, Congress allocated $99 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, which supports state and local programs to develop and start pay-for-performance plans for teachers as well as principals, based primarily on student performance on tests. The program is getting $97 million in the current fiscal year, and the Bush administration has proposed to roughly double that for fiscal 2009.

But a focus on test scores ignores many of the other important facets of being a successful school leader, the NASSP position paper argues. The organization suggests looking at other variables, such as graduation rates and promotion rates, student enrollment in rigorous coursework like that developed by the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, college-attendance rates, school climate data, parent-participation data, and teacher-retention and -transfer rates.

By including such variables in a performance-pay program, Mr. Tirozzi said, districts would also be less likely to use bonus pay as a quick fix. They should also create systems that recruit and retain principals through robust professional development, he said.

In a high-stakes system, Mr. Tirozzi added, principals are uniquely vulnerable. Teachers are protected by tenure, he said, and superintendents by contracts.

“It’s the principals whose jobs are eliminated,” he said in an interview.

Leadership by principals has been a focus of attention in school improvement efforts, but the focus is growing more intense. In a 2004 report, “How Leadership Influences Student Learning,” University of Toronto researcher Kenneth Leithwood and his co-authors wrote that the contribution of effective leadership “is largest when it is needed most.”

They continued: “There are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around in the absence of intervention by talented leaders. While other factors within the school also contribute to such turnarounds, leadership is the catalyst.”

Worth Trying?

Daniel D. Goldhaber, a research professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who focuses on school reform, agrees that performance-pay systems in a school district should be well crafted and focus on other variables in addition to test scores.

Otherwise, he says, there could be incentives to manipulate the system—for example, by giving subtle hints to low-performing students that they should drop out, thereby increasing the school’s performance overall. Including such variables as dropout rates in an evaluation system would help eliminate concerns over unintended consequences, he says.

Mr. Goldhaber believes performance-pay systems are still an experiment, but one that is worth trying.

“The current system is not working, and I am an advocate for trying new things,” he said. And, he suggested, a performance-pay system for principals is probably something a district should try before attempting such an incentive system for teachers.

“A principal has a lot more control over what’s going on in a school,” Mr. Goldhaber said.

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
How Whole-Child Student Data Can Strengthen Family Connections
Learn how district leaders can use these actionable strategies to increase family engagement in their student’s education and boost their academic achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Pursue School Improvement Through Persuasion. Not Vilification
Neither haranguing opponents nor talking solely to the like-minded is likely to change minds or locate common ground.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management District Pays $50,000 Fine to Scrub Confederate Leaders' Names From Schools
The fine to Montgomery, Ala., schools stems from a 2017 state law designed to preserve public memorials.
4 min read
A pedestal that held a statue of Robert E. Lee stands empty outside a high school named for the Confederate general in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Two Montgomery high schools will no longer bear the names of Confederate leaders. The Montgomery County Board of Education has voted for new names for Jefferson Davis High School and Robert E Lee High School, news outlets report.
In this June 2020 photo, a pedestal that held a statue of Robert E. Lee stands empty outside a high school named for the Confederate general in Montgomery, Ala. The Montgomery school board voted this month to pay a hefty fine to the state in order to rename Robert E. Lee High and another school named for Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.
Kim Chandler/AP
School & District Management Principals Give Thanks—and Shoutouts—to School Support Staff
Custodians, lunchroom aides, secretaries, and bus drivers are “too often forgotten and underappreciated.”
7 min read
Image of a framed smiley face.
zakokor/iStock/Getty
School & District Management How to Recruit and Retain School Board Members of Color
Pay, staffing, and support are key ingredients to persuade people of color to run for their local school board, experts say.
5 min read
Illustration showing diversity with multi-colored human figures.
ajijchan/iStock/Getty