Our guest blogger is Robin Chait, Associate Director for Teacher Quality at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.As Chancellor Joel Klein leaves New York City Public Schools to become an executive vice president with News Corp., the media company founded by Rupert Murdoch, many are debating his record. Some have criticized his authoritarian style and failure to involve parents and community members in his reform efforts.
However, he clearly has achieved dramatic reforms, fostering a culture of innovation in the district. And student achievement has increased as a result.
One of his unique contributions was the attention he focused on the principalship as a key lever for school reform. Klein empowered principals by giving them more control over their school budgets and the ability to hire teachers and select vendors for academic programs. He then held them accountable for their results with a more rigorous evaluation process. In New York City, principals are evaluated based on a school’s growth in academic performance, a principal’s goals and objectives, compliance with district mandates, and a comprehensive, two-three day school quality review.
This attention to the principalship is smart and strategic, because while effective teachers are incredibly important to students’ learning, principals are responsible for recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers. According to Steve Tozer, the program coordinator for the Urban Education Leadership program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “the principalship is simply the most cost effective lever for improving schools.”
Tozer made this comment at an event today that CAP co-sponsored with the Rainwater Foundation and the Fordham Institute that focused on rethinking principal recruitment and preparation to prepare principals that can dramatically improve learning and close the achievement gap. The event was informed by a new report, prepared by the Rainwater Leadership Alliance (RLA) entitled “A New Approach to Principal Preparation.”
The RLA is a coalition of innovative principal preparation programs — including school districts, higher education, and nonprofits from across the country — that are committed to preparing leaders who can dramatically improve student achievement and sustain that improvement over time. Participating programs include New Leaders for New Schools, the New York City Leadership Academy, the Urban Education Leadership program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and KIPP.
The report highlights a number of important aspects of recruiting and preparing effective principals, including defining a set of skills, knowledge, and dispositions that a principal must have in order to drive high levels of student achievement and becoming highly selective by establishing clear criteria and rigorous processes to evaluate applicants’ dispositions, skills, and knowledge.
A key question is how to scale up more programs that include these components. That’s an important role for policy at all levels. And certainly other districts could follow Chancellor Klein’s lead in investing in principal quality.