A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 28 2011

Problems at the Top

Today, I have another guest post from two educators responding to a recent Washington Post article on charter school leadership. I’ve certainly dithered on how much weight to put on school leaders in thinking about the bottom-line effect on student achievement. They are undeniably important, but to what degree, people will disagree.

The question worth considering today is this: are charter schools more prone than regular public schools to leadership vacuums?


Problems at the Top

by Majidah Muhammad and Jessica Coley

In an April 24th Washington Post article (“Charter schools suffer leadership shortages”), Sarah Butrymowicz discusses the lack of leadership in charter schools.

As the charter-school movement began its rise, many thought it would offer better instructional practices by educators and institutionalize a privatized system of education. Now, with charter schools facing much scrutiny, many question the effectiveness of school leaders of managing  teachers and the students that fill seats in classrooms.

While many charter schools articulate a rigorous vision, instructional practices are not always aligned to it. Is this because effective leadership is not installed and appropriately held accountable for the direction in which they take their schools?

Effective leadership is an intricate component necessary to turn around schools. Its absence delays changes necessary to reorient a school. The article mentions that seventy-one percent of charter school principals plan to leave after five years. One would wonder if change would be sustained following a principal’s exit. While 3-5 years might be a normal timeline for the overall change, benchmarks should be established annually to ensure that schools are on target with a proposed vision.  Who is holding principals accountable?

The professional development extended to teachers and the academic growth of students is at stake when ineffective leaders are chosen to lead America’s schools. Effective principals support the quality of teachers and contribute to school success. When teachers are not led effectively, retention becomes an issue – an area considered when charter schools are evaluated.  The educational system can’t lose quality teachers due to leadership that is not qualified.  Something must be done!

New Leaders for New Schools (“NLNS”) is expected to serve as a pipeline to replace ineffective leaders who flood charter schools and help widen the achievement gap.  The 15-month training program for aspiring school leaders offers extensive personal training and prepares soon-to-be principals with skill sets needed to delve into what some might call the “educational trenches.”

Though NLNS is fairly new to the educational arena, data supports the effectiveness of those that graduate from the program. Students in elementary and middle schools led by NLNS principals for at least three years are academically outpacing their peers by statistically significant margins.

New Leaders for New Schools is a great jump-start to preparing effective principals. The movement can become more widespread if states invest in programs like NLNS, adopt a statewide principal evaluation system and hold principals accountable for meeting benchmarks over time. Having a highly effective principal creates a trickle-down effect that contributes to student success. This type of program is well over due.

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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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