Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And We Need Professional Principals, Too

There is a scene in Waiting For Superman in which Superintendent Michelle Rhee fires a principal. While it is extraordinary that the dismissal was filmed, it may well be the kind of action that is inevitable if we are going to meaningfully improve our schools. Good schools recognize the importance of accountable, dynamic school leadership and compensate it accordingly.

But some in the education blogosphere bemoan a dearth of talented school leaders willing to supply the need, and small-school models inherently call for the creation of far more principals' positions than the traditional comprehensive school model requires, so where are all these education superheroes supposed to come from?

One place they have not been coming from, so far, is from special principals' academies like the one set up in New York City in the last decade to fill the need. A very interesting story in The New York Times showed that schools headed by typically young (early 30s) Ivy League types with minimal educational experience but special academy training were being outperformed on the city's accountability measures by more experienced leaders who rose through the ranks in the old-fashioned way, contrary to the academy's expectations.

If we were to genuinely empower principals, as independent schools often do, and not bestrew them with the kind of regulations that have strangled the traditional public schools and led to such intense frustration on the part of those schools' principals (see my post of 8 July for this),  we might make education in general a more enticing career for young people, and draw more much-needed talent into schools of all kinds.   

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