"School districts, because they want the money, are finding creative ways to meet the requirements of the law."–Gerald N. Tirozzi, Executive Director, NASSP
You have probably heard the saying, "Principals don’t retire. They just lose their faculties." Apparently, in Minnesota, where "ousted principals quickly find new jobs," as well as in many other states, fired principals simply get new faculties.
Dollar Chase Leads to Musical Chairs
District leaders were shaken when they learned that, in order to qualify for school improvement grant (SIG) funds, they would have to replace the school’s principal. Three of the four school reform models called for the replacement of the principal. The idea of firing principals when few replacements were available, particularly in rural and inner-city schools, was inconceivable. However, district leaders quickly found a loophole. Instead of firing principals, districts simply transferred them within the district. According to the AP, "of 19 Minnesota schools in 12 districts that were awarded more than $24 million found that only a handful of principals have left education administration. The AP interviewed nearly a dozen school leaders, reviewed school board minutes and media reports and sought out displaced principals by phone and through web searches."
More False Assumptions
I have written before about the false assumptions that underlie current "school reform" models. Note, that, in order to propose firing teachers and principals and closing struggling schools, one would have to believe all of the following false assumptions:
1. "Merit pay" for teachers will improve student performance. One does not have to look far into the research to discover that there is no basis for merit pay improving teaching.
2. Experienced principals and teachers are anxious to work in high-poverty, struggling schools. High-poverty schools serving high percentages of under-resourced students have the least experienced teachers and administrators and the highest turnover. The retention rates for principals at low-performing schools and schools with high concentrations of poor students are even worse. "Twenty percent of newly hired principals at secondary schools with a high proportion of low-income students leave after a year."
3. The best teachers want to teach the neediest students. We already know that high-poverty schools have fewer applicants and higher teacher turnover. However, within the typical school, a pecking order exists among the teaching staff. Because the most experienced teachers have "earned the right" to teach the most desirable courses, those teachers typically teach the best students in the smallest classes. Conversely, the newest teachers teach the neediest students in the largest classes. Principals often struggle to convince experienced teachers to teach those students most in need.
4. There is an abundant supply of experienced master teachers and skilled administrators. Top schools compete for top teachers and the struggling schools get the leftovers, if there are any. A friend once said to me, "It isn’t about school leadership. It is about hiring the best teachers. That’s the key to improving schools.
All you have to do is hire great teachers.” I turned to my friend and said, “Who do you think recruits, interviews, hires, and trains your great teachers? Teaching is a profession, and professionals learn and grow from experience. Teachers don’t walk into schools with all the skills and knowledge that they will ever need. Teaching is learning. All new teachers must rely on mentors and advisors, most of whom are provided by the principal.” Some believe that anyone could teach. These "anyone can teach" proponents incorrectly believe that experience does not matter. Why else would they propose hiring teachers who have only five weeks of training. Of course, inexperienced teachers are good enough for other people’s children, but they would never be good enough for the children of the school reform experts.
Rural schools have the same supply problem that urban schools have. "Rural superintendents have had trouble for years recruiting principals (and teachers), let alone for the toughest schools. Urban and suburban districts pay better. Rural areas often don’t provide a second job for two-career couples. The rural lifestyle often doesn’t appeal to urbanites. And with the housing market downturn, top candidates often don’t want to sell at a loss and buy new homes in small towns."
5. Schools are struggling because teachers and administrators are incompetent. If that were the case, why, when they had the perfect excuse to get rid of them, would the same district hire back incompetent principals? First, these people are not incompetent. Second, the reasons for schools struggling are more about poverty, the surrounding communities, and the under-resourced families and students they serve than it is about incompetent teachers and principals.
Who can we trust?
The more I read and research, the less I trust that we are or will be told the truth. You may recall the controversy over the PISA scores, which, according to "so-called experts," indicated that our schools were failing because our students scored in the middle of the international pack. In fact, in "It’s Poverty Not Stupid," I pointed out that, our low-poverty schools are the highest performing in world.
We all want our schools to improve. False assumptions and half-truths only serve to distract us from the real challenge that we and other developed nations face–raising the performance of under-resourced students so that they have a chance to lead a happy, productive, and prosperous life.