Teaching Profession Opinion

Pity the Poor Principals

By Sara Mead — August 30, 2010 1 min read
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Btw, my major reaction to this whole LA Times value-added story and database is to pity the poor principals in Los Angeles’ elementary schools. How many parents are showing up in their offices right now, with value-added results for their children’s teachers in hand, demanding their children be removed from the classrooms of teachers with poor value-added ratings and/or into the classrooms of those who are knocking the ball out of the park in the LA Times analysis.

You sure can’t blame parents for doing this!

But ultimately, parents trying to get their kids into the class of the “best” teacher--whether based on word of mouth or value-added data--is about the most zero-sum form of parent engagement you can come up with. It distracts school leaders, is a drain on their time, and can create combative dynamics that hurt school community. To the extent that parents are successful in lobbying for better teachers for their kids, it only locks in inequities between kids with more engaged and savvy parents and those without. And in a system where principals don’t necessarily control who teaches in their schools, what can they do in response to 100 parents demanding Mrs. so-and-so and NOT Mrs. thus-and-such teach their kids?

Getting beyond zero-sum would require some form of organizing and advocacy to get parents engaged in broader systemic issues--how teachers are hired, assigned, and removed--beyond their individual child. That kind of organizing is difficult, but can be done. Are the civil rights groups that have been making a big deal recently about the need for parent engagement working to build the kind of organizing and educational infrastructure needed to move parent and community engagement beyond zero-sum?

Speaking of parent engagement, Dan Willingham has an interesting take on what teachers most want from parents.

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The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.