Education Vital Signs: Administration

“The buck stops here,” was perhaps the most famous slogan from the administration of President Harry S. Truman, more than a half century ago. And that same axiom applies to school board members, superintendents, principals, and other administrators today (although now we might use something less folksy, such as “accountability starts at the top”).

Accountability does indeed start at the top, whether we’re talking about budgeting, student achievement, the hiring and firing of staff …. the list goes on and on. The jobs of board members and administrators are more complicated than ever. And they will always be evolving, reflecting ongoing changes in such things as technology, the economy, student demographics, and federal and state requirements.

Below are the latest studies that fall under the broad heading of administration, from how to get talented teachers into every classroom to how to enhance the changes of student success with effective principal-school counselor relationships:

Superintendent churn
Why Superintendents Turn Over, a study of California superintendents appearing in the American Educational Research Journal, found that 43 percent of all superintendents left their districts within three years, but 71 percent of superintendents serving in districts with 29,000 students or more did the same. The study’s authors interviewed superintendents and board members about district climate and reasons for departures and found that superintendents usually traded up to larger districts, raising their salaries on average from $109,761 to $131,110 per annum in the process.
November 2012 

Challenges for new urban principals
More than 20 percent of new urban principals leave within two years of placement. The odds a new principal will leave are highest if the principal is placed at a school that has failed to make NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress, or if test scores decline during their first year as the chief administrator. According to Rand Education’s report, First-Year Principals in Urban School Districts, 78 percent of principals who resigned after only one year experienced declining test scores at their schools.
March 2012

Gateways to the Principalship
The authors of a new report from the Center for American Progress, Gateways to the Principalship, argue that principals are the driving force behind sustained student achievement, since principals are responsible for hiring and developing the teachers who have the greatest impact on student learning. States hold the keys to sustained student achievement through their control of principal licensure and approval of principal preparation programs. The authors recommend that states develop a framework for principal preparation programs, and that they revoke the licenses of ineffective principals.
October 2011

District Superintendents and the School Improvement Problem of Addressing Barriers to Learning

A report from the UCLA Center discusses the issues superintendents see as roadblocks to their efforts to improve student achievement and public education. The report says that superintendents “live in a culture of conflict, insecurity, and uncertainty,” and that their job stress is increasing while their job satisfaction plummets. Superintendents list increased accountability and high-stakes testing, insufficient funding and unfunded mandates, and increased demands on their time as major stressors. The report, District Superintendents and the School Improvement Problem of Addressing Barriers to Learning, points out that, in a 2010 American Association of School Administrators’ study, only 51 percent of respondents still planned on being a superintendent in 2015.

September 2011

Eliminating the Achievement Gap

A new white paper from the Center for Reinventing Public Education argues that partnering with high-performing charter schools can help superintendents overcome the achievement gap in their schools. Eliminating the Achievement Gap says that superintendents who adopt a “portfolio” management strategy for their districts that includes charter schools can overcome political dynamics that typically hamper reform efforts. It suggests that superintendents learn to leverage strategies frequently used in charter schools, such as focusing on school culture and parent involvement, extended school days, ongoing diagnostics and interventions, and intensive professional development.

June 2011


Preparing for Growth: Human Capital Innovations in Charter Public Schools
A new report, Preparing for Growth: Human Capital Innovations in Charter Public Schools, by the Center for American Progress, analyzes strategies used by six charter management organizations (Green Dot Public Schools, High Tech High, IDEA Public Schools, Knowledge Is Power Program, Rocketship Education, and YES Prep Schools) to ensure an adequate number of charter school leaders in the pipeline. It finds three key strategies: standardizing recruitment and preparation processes for new hires, developing leadership in teachers and principals, and hiring highly talented outside management.
May 2011

Yearning to Break Free
Just 37 percent of Ohio superintendents surveyed for Yearning to Break Free said the central problem with K-12 education is money; 52 percent said the real problem is “how and where the money is spent.” The superintendents surveyed crave autonomy, and 78 percent of them said they would gladly link their own pay to improved outcomes if only they could be given greater authority over their staffs. Fifty-seven percent believe evaluating schools and districts based on student performance on standardized tests is “mostly” a good thing. About 80 percent favor changing state law to make it easier to terminate incompetent teachers, even those who are tenured.
March 2011

Principals’ Approaches to Developing Teacher Quality
A new paper on ways principals can influence teacher development says that principals find it easier to improve their teachers through professional development or induction than to hire, reassign, evaluate, or dismiss them. Some principals feel more constrained in these matters than others. Principals’ Approaches to Developing Teacher Quality found that principals of schools that had a strong identity, were smaller, enrolled elementary students, and were supported by their districts in key ways had the easiest time performing difficult human capital processes.
February 2011

You’re Leaving?
Seventy-one percent of the 400 charter school leaders surveyed for You’re Leaving? expect to leave their schools within five years. Charter schools are particularly vulnerable when leadership turns over because charter schools may not have a pool of ready candidates (especially independent charter schools), may operate in politically antagonistic environments, or require a leader who is a very close “fit” with the school and its mission.
November 2010

A New Approach to Principal Preparation
Principals are the second biggest factor influencing student achievement. Principals determine school culture and are responsible for the selection, development, and retention of their school’s teachers -- the biggest factor influencing student achievement. A report released by the Rainwater Leadership Alliance, A New Approach to Principal Preparation, highlights innovative programs that develop principals who are effective, and shares their best practices and lessons learned. The report recommends that effective principal development programs should define a competency framework; rely on strategic, proactive, and targeted recruiting practices; become highly selective and use clear criteria and rigorous processes to evaluate applicants; include training and development that is experiential; establish ongoing support for its graduates; and commit to continuous improvement and using data to assess the effectiveness of their principals and the programs.
November 2010

How High Schools Become Exemplary
A new report on 15 outstanding public high schools by Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative, How High Schools Become Exemplary, shows that student achievement rises when leadership focuses on the quality of instruction. Leaders in these schools publicly took responsibility for raising student achievement; used mission statements to keep on track; planned learning experiences for teachers; defined criteria for teaching and student work; engaged their entire faculties in the project; and continually monitored both teacher and student work.
September 2010

Learning from Leadership
Rapid principal turnover has been shown to hurt student achievement, but while the principal is the main source of leadership in any school, in more successful schools the principal is not its only source. Learning from Leadership, a new report from the Wallace Foundation, states that higher-performing schools provide more opportunities to teacher teams, parents, and students for input, influence, and engagement. The report finds that principals lead most effectively when they work collaboratively with district personnel, other principals, and teachers.
July 2010

Curing Baumol’s Disease
Economist William Baumol noted in the 1960’s that because labor-intensive services such as public schools compete with other sectors of the economy for workers and cannot reduce staff without reducing their output, their costs rise continually. This phenomenon is called Baumol’s Disease. A new white paper, Curing Baumol’s Disease, looks at ways in which other labor-intensive businesses have addressed the problem, and proposes a five-step agenda for curing it in public education.
July 2010

Devil in the Details
Vague, outdated, and ineffective state laws make teacher dismissal very difficult, according to Devil in the Details, a new report from the Center for American Progress. While teacher dismissal is handled by local school boards and school administrators, the process is governed by state laws which rarely link evaluation to dismissal, making it very difficult to dismiss teachers. Only a few states, such as Illinois, have laws explicitly suggesting that teachers with multiple negative evaluations be made eligible for dismissal.
June 2010

Principal Effectiveness and Leadershipin an Era of Accountability: What the Research Says
A brief from the Calder Center synthesizes new findings on principal effectiveness. It shows that more effective principals can staff their schools with more effective teachers; experience is a predictor of principal effectiveness; principal effectiveness depends partly on how time is allocated across daily responsibilities and on a sense of efficacy; principals’ subjective evaluations of teachers offer valuable information on teacher performance; and that, while principal quality is most important in high-poverty, low-performing schools, these schools have lower-quality principals.
April 2010

Taking Human Capital Seriously: Talented Teachers in Every Classroom, Talented Principals in Every School
The ultimate key to student success is having an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every building. This is the premise of the Strategic Management of Human Capital’s new report, Taking Human Capital Seriously: Talented Teachers in Every Classroom, Talented Principals in Every School. But, as the authors say, “Too often the ‘people side’ of education reform is overlooked. ... The reform spotlight should be turned where it is most important -- on the people who teach and who serve as principals.” They also point out that “the opportunity afforded by the Federal fiscal stimulus package may never be repeated.” The authors recommend a number of politically charged reforms, such as instituting a tiered licensure system for teachers that includes an induction program and requires teachers to demonstrate their effectiveness before receiving tenure. The report notes that some districts now find themselves in a human capital predicament because they gave tenure to inadequate teachers. The authors state that, if these teachers “are not able to become effective instructors who can bring about measurable gains in student learning, they should be removed.”
November 2009

The New York City Aspiring Principals Program: A School-Level Evaluation
New York City established its Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principals Program (APP) in 2003 to train and develop its own school leaders. Graduates of APP are currently responsible for 15 percent of New York City’s public schools. A new report from the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University, The New York City Aspiring Principals Program: A School-Level Evaluation, is the first systematic comparison of APP graduate-led schools with comparable schools led by other new principals.
August 2009

Exploring the Possibility and Potential for Pay for Performance in America’s Public Schools
Fewer than half of school administrators participating said they support merit pay for some or all teachers, according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators. More than 20 percent have no interest in the pay-for-performance plans, but 82 percent said any merit pay program should apply to all educators in the district if it is approved.
June 2009

Finding a Way: Practical Examples of How an Effective Principal-Counselor Relationship Can Lead to Success for All Students
A new two-part study of effective principal-counselor relationships from the American School Counselors Association indicates that students achieve more when their school principal and school counselor have a strong relationship. This is especially true if students are low-income or are first-generation, or come from traditionally underrepresented populations.
May 2009

Learning Teams: Creating What’s Next
Over the next decade, more than half of today’s veteran teachers will retire, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future forecasts. School officials are worried that they can’t rely on new teachers to fill the gap -- the percentage of new teachers who leave the profession within five years continues to climb -- but the forecast points out that the situation does present administrators with a perfect opportunity to redesign the work force.
April 2009

2007 State of the Superintendency Mini-Survey: Aspiring to the Superintendency
There are not enough candidates to fill a looming number of job openings in the superintendency, according to a nationwide survey of school superintendents released by the American Association of School Administrators. According to the 2007 State of the Superintendency Mini-Survey: Aspiring to the Superintendency, 85 percent of the superintendents surveyed believe an inadequate supply of educational leaders exists to fill the anticipated superintendent openings in the near future. Eighty percent of superintendents reported that no programs exist in their districts to identify individuals aspiring to become school leaders.
June 2008

Principal Compensation: More Research Needed on a Promising Reform
Principals are rewarded for having more experience, leading a secondary school, leading an urban or suburban school, leading a larger school, and being in a larger school district, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. There is relatively little change, however, in the factors that explain principal salaries, which provides suggestive evidence that there haven’t been major shifts in the structure of principal compensation. The report recommends key steps for school districts and states to consider as they look at pay-for-performance initiatives.
December 2007

Leading for Learning 2007
According to a new report from Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, new principals are less likely to come from traditional backgrounds but have more leadership training and experience than veteran principals. The report, Leading for Learning 2007, shows that only 5 percent of principals with fewer than five years of experience came from the classroom without additional administrative or leadership experience. About 15 percent of veteran school leaders, those with 10 or more years of experience, came directly through the teaching ranks.
September 2007

Schools Need Good Leaders Now: State Progress in Creating a Learning-Centered School Leadership System
The cutting-edge principal needed in today’s school “is not your father’s principal,” asserts Schools Need Good Leaders Now: State Progress in Creating a Learning-Centered School Leadership System. The Southern Regional Education Board report calls for a new generation of school leaders who put curriculum and instruction first. It examines states’ progress in developing school leaders who look beyond traditional administrative tasks and focus on improving schools and student learning.