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School & District Management

Principals Report Areas of Freedom and Constraint in New Study

By Christina A. Samuels — February 25, 2011 1 min read
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The Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington, has released a report on principal leadership based on in-depth interviews with 30 leaders in two states.

The center found that principals felt fairly free to develop teachers’ skills through professional development, but felt less free when it came to issues such as hiring, assigning, evaluating, and dismissing teachers. Interestingly, even some of the charter school principals reported the same constraints, even though one of the benefits of charter schools is supposed to be detachment from the rules that govern traditional public schools. From the report:

...the particular characteristics of the school, whether charter or conventional, and district seemed to influence how much latitude the principal experienced. Sometimes unionization constrained principals' decision-making; more often, however, culture and tradition seemed to play a larger role in limiting principals' efforts to raise teacher quality in their buildings.

To facilitate candor, none of the principals were identified, nor were their districts or schools. The interviews were conducted in two adjacent northeastern states, one of which has a particularly strong union setting. Most of the principals were in urban or suburban settings and seven were charter school principals.

The center offered three conclusions:

State and district policymakers should consider supporting bonuses and salary increments to help attract and retain teachers to remote regions, hard-to-staff schools, and [subject areas where there are teacher shortages.] State and district policymakers should work with union leaders to ensure that seniority does not govern important personnel decisions at the expense of other important considerations such as the quality of a teacher's instruction. This change should be balanced by the introduction of greater career opportunities and rewards for individuals who have dedicated their life's work to teaching. Policymakers should also address principal preparation and in-service training to ensure that principals develop an ability to act strategically as human capital managers. In particular, principals need to develop vital management skills to assess instruction and communicate effectively regarding instructional quality.

The full report can be found here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.