The Center in the Media
Report: Overworked, undertrained principals
By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess
Conduct more intensive teacher evaluations. Be the CEO of site-based budgeting. Guide the transition to Common Core standards.
School reforms on the books or in the making would pile on significant responsibilities for school principals. But a new study by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd warns that California’s principals are already short-staffed, untrained for new responsibilities, and stretched thin in many directions. They’re working 60 hours per week on average, with fewer office and support staff around to lighten the load, according to the Center’s survey of 600 principals.
“Budget cuts and increasing accountability pressures are clearly making the job (of principal) harder,” said Holly Jacobson, director of the Center at WestEd. “Just as teachers most need their support, principals have more to do, and less time, resources, and support to do it.”
In their 2011 annual Status of the Teaching Profession report, the Center focused on principals in a state that’s lean with administrators (California ranks 48th in the nation in the ratio of principals/assistant principals to students, according to EdSource). Not only are principals feeling pressure from federal accountability sanctions – two-thirds of Title I (low-income) schools are in Program Improvement under No Child Left Behind – but they tend to be led by principals relatively new to the job. The Center’s survey found that half of principals overall have been principal for no more than five years, and 53 percent have been in their current job less than three years.
Fewer than half of principals surveyed had experience in key site management responsibilities before being promoted. Click to enlarge. (CFTL survey of 600 principals)
Most report that they had prior experience conducting classroom observations (74 percent) and creating a school staff development plan (69 percent), but less that three-fifths had done a teacher evaluation, and less than half had managed school facilities (48 percent), created a master schedule (45 percent), or done a school budget (34 percent).
It would be one thing if there was sufficient on-the-job training. But California has no state mentoring and fellowship programs for new principals. According to the Center’s report, the state has cut $100 million for teacher and principal training programs in the past few years, but that figure probably vastly understates cuts in training money. Districts can now spend professional development dollars however they want, and most have pared back training to prevent more staff layoffs and even larger class sizes.
In the key area of staff development, only about a third of principals reported that they received training to any great extent in conducting evaluations or classroom observations.
It may be wishful thinking, given all of their duties, but the report urges reprioritizing principals’ responsibilities. One thing that could help, said Jacobson and the report’s chief researcher Patrick Shields of SRI International, would be to more extensively call on veteran teachers to share their content expertise with other teachers, so that the role of instruction leader is not totally on the principal’s shoulders.
Three-quarters of principals agreed that current evaluations are useful in improving instruction, but only a third agreed that the system is useful in removing ineffective teachers. Click to enlarge. (CFTL survey of 600 principals)
Creating a more effective teacher evaluation system, with the goal of improving teachers’ instruction, is one of the report’s recommendations – and is expected to be a legislative priority in 2012 (via AB 5, the primary bill on the issue). Principals agreed that the current regulation-laden system, based on announced, formal classroom observations, is not efficient in weeding out low-performers. Only a third agreed that the current system results in removing ineffective teachers (only 5 percent strongly agreed), while only 16 percent strongly agreed (53 percent generally agreed) that current evaluations help teachers improve.
A reinvented comprehensive evaluation system, with multiple measures as the report recommends, will hardly lighten any principal’s load, even with some help from department heads, mentor teachers, and assistant principals. (One possibility is to expand the peer review programs to let consulting teachers evaluate probationary teachers, as in Poway Unified, and other teachers.) The Center also suggests that shifting from a compliance-driven evaluation system should make it easier to dismiss a small percentage of bad performers; they currently can consume most of a principal’s attention.
Two other recommendations in the report: