Are rules which limit choice hampering principal effectiveness?

8 Apr

As more emphasis is placed on holding schools accountable, more scrutiny is directed toward school leadership, particularly school principals. It is generally agreed that strong leadership at the school building level is essential for an effective school, the question is whether shool principals have the authority to accomplish their task? David Miller Sadker, PhD,  Karen R. Zittleman, PhD in Teachers, Schools, and Society list the characteristics of a strong school:

Factor 1: Strong Leadership

Factor 2: A Clear School Mission

Factor 3: A Safe and Orderly Climate

Factor 4: Monitoring Student Progress

A variety of commentators say that strong leadership is key to an effective school.

Gary Hopkins of Education World surveyed 43 principals and reported upon his findings in the article, Principals Identify Top Ten Leadership Traits:

The result of that survey is this list of the top ten traits of school leaders, presented in order of importance.

1. Has a stated vision for the school and a plan to achieve that vision.

2. Clearly states goals and expectations for students, staff, and parents.

3. Is visible — gets out of the office; is seen all over the school.

4. Is trustworthy and straight with students and staff.

5. Helps develop leadership skills in others.

6. Develops strong teachers; cultivates good teaching practice.

7. Shows that he or she is not in charge alone; involves others.

8. Has a sense of humor.

9. Is a role model for students and staff.

10. Offers meaningful kindnesses and kudos to staff and students.

Again, there is an emphasis on leadership.

Charmaine Loever describes What Makes A Principal Effective?

A good principal creates a vision of high standards which is later imparted to all stakeholders. It is one that calls for excellence, is strong, clear, and is articulated in such a way that employees are convinced to “buy in” to it….

 Having a strong character is one of the qualities of an effective principal. Such a leader demonstrates self-control, will power, persistence, confidence, is well organized, and consistent. …

An outstanding principal doesn’t get easily agitated in the face of turmoil, but remains calm and is level headed. Principals who remain calm in unpleasant situations also demonstrate strength of character. They possess sound judgment which causes them to frequently make good decisions. As a result, they earn the trust and the respect of the people around them….

The effective principal shows empathy.
These school understand what it is like to be in the classroom and therefore are not quick to
pass judgment. They support their teachers and defend them in any way possible. Teachers enjoy working with, and appreciate principals who can identify with their situation….

An exceptional principal celebrates the achievements of all staff members and shuns discrimination.
These principals know that celebrating the accomplishments of all employees will motivate them to do their best.It is unfortunate that some practice favoritism, as this is one of the negative components that they need to strive to eradicate from the school environment. …

An effective principal includes all stakeholders in the decision making process. These administrators are cognizant of the fact that it takes teamwork to build an effective school….

Being a good role model is one of the essential characteristics of an exceptional school administrator. Principals need to conduct themselves in ways that teachers, students, parents, and other community members would want to emulate….

Chester E. Finn Jr. agrees that strong leadership is essential for effective schools, but he questions whether principals have the freedom to lead. Finn, is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank. He is also senior editor of Education Next.

Finn writes in the Atlantic article, Why School Principals Need More Authority:

A venerable maxim of successful organizational management declares that an executive’s authority should be commensurate with his or her responsibility. In plain English, if you are held to account for producing certain results, you need to be in charge of the essential means of production.

In American public education today, however, that equation is sorely unbalanced. A school principal in 2012 is accountable for student achievement, for discipline, for curriculum and instruction, and for leading (and supervising) the staff team, not to mention attracting students, satisfying parents, and collaborating with innumerable other agencies and organizations.

Yet that same principal controls only a tiny part of his school’s budget, has scant say over who teaches there, practically no authority when it comes to calendar or schedule, and minimal leverage over the curriculum itself. Instead of deploying all available school assets in ways that would do the most good for the most kids, the principal is required to follow dozens or hundreds of rules, program requirements, spending procedures, discipline codes, contract clauses, and regulations emanating from at least three levels of government–none of which strives to coordinate with any of the others.

In short, we give our school heads the responsibility of CEO’s but the authority of middle-level bureaucrats…

To top it off, today’s school principals get paid barely more than the senior teachers in their schools, though they typically work year-round versus the classic 180-day, 9-month teacher contract.

No wonder principals are retiring in droves. No wonder many of our ablest young educators –such as those emerging from the Teach for America program — shun the principal’s office, at least in district-operated schools. (Many gravitate to the charter-school sector, where principals have far greater authority.) No wonder entrepreneurs, risk-takers, and change agents seldom last long as principals, or that many of those who do endure are people content in middle-manager roles….

The underlying causes are threefold.

First, a dysfunctional and archaic governance structure for public education that pays homage to “local control” yet turns into bureaucratic management of dozens or hundreds of schools from burgeoning “central offices,” rather than vesting any real control at the level closest to teachers, students, and parents. Setting policy for that system, typically, is an elected school board that itself has grown dysfunctional, particularly in urban America, as adult interest groups manipulate who serves on it. Atop all this sit state and federal agencies — multiple agencies at each level — as well as (in many states) county or regional administrative units.

Second, we’ve layered so many responsibilities on our schools that the teaching and learning of basic skills and essential knowledge has all but vanished under efforts to rectify injustice, foster diversity, provide multiple services to kids with varying needs, prevent drug abuse, adolescent pregnancy and obesity, forge character, keep children off the streets, ensure physical fitness, and observe a near-infinity of special events, holidays, and interest-group enthusiasm.

Third, every time something goes wrong anywhere, a blizzard of new rules and procedures descends upon the school’s obligations, lest that mishap recur anywhere else. Whether it’s bullying or a playground accident, an unwanted intruder or a disgruntled parent, a kid who doesn’t get into a particular course or a library book that offends someone, the checklists, regulations, and prohibitions multiply.

Finn does not have one solution as to how the rules which inhibit principals accomplishing the task of leading their schools and making them more effective can be loosened. It will be a state by state struggle and not to mention some of the mandates at the federal level. Still, people must have the tools to effectively do their jobs.

Strong leadership is essential for struggling schools. Strong leadership requires not only accountability, but authority.


New research: School principal effectiveness

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

7 Responses to “Are rules which limit choice hampering principal effectiveness?”


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