Posted on 12/13/11 • 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:
- Support principals and teachers in integrating Common Core standards in English language arts and math, before assessments are implemented in 2014-15. Teachers need time to change approaches to instruction and develop lesson plans.
- Increase the information on teachers and principals in a statewide data system. This has been a controversy since Gov. Jerry Brown returned federal money to continue building a statewide database on teachers called CALTIDES. The report suggests that much information on teachers, including from which college they received their teaching certification, is already in databases at the Department of Education and the Commission on Teaching Credentialing. State lawmakers should change statutes so that this information is shared with CALPADS, the statewide student data base, the report said. Local and state officials need it to predict teacher and principal turnover and areas of staff shortages and to measure the effectiveness of institutions that award teaching credentials.
from the report:
the WestEd 2011 annual Status of the Teaching Profession report
The California Principal in 2011
The majority of the state’s principals are relatively new to their role, with 51 percent having been a principal for no more than 5 years and 53 percent having been the principal at their current school for no more than 3 years.Those in charge of the state’s highest performing schools tend to have more experience at their current school than do those in lower performing schools.
Nearly 90 percent of the state’s principals secured their administrative services credential through a professional preparation program.Almost three quarters of principals surveyed reported having served as an assistant or vice principal immediately prior to assuming the role of principal.They come to this role with a wide range of content expertise.
Thirty-three percent have a background in English, 24 percent in history/social science, 20 percent in mathematics, and 15 percent in science.
We expect a lot from our school leaders.
This year’s annual report concludes that today’s California principals have more to do, less time to do it, and fewer sources of support, even as they and their teachers — and the students they serve — contend with higher stakes.
One experienced middle school principal interviewed for the study put it this way: “In today’s world, principals are asked to be master teachers, curriculum directors, technology directors, chief budget officers, nurses, athletic directors, crisis negotiators and managers, community liaisons, and fundraising wizards.” Not surprisingly, then, our principals report working long hours: 61 hours per week on average for high school principals, 58 hours for middle school principals, and 57 for elementary school principals.
Principal as site manager.
As the national and state conversation has turned to teacher effectiveness, principals are being asked to assume an increasingly prominent instructional leadership role.
Yet many California principals reported that their ability to carry out this important aspect of their work is hindered by the time and effort needed in another area of responsibility for which they feel far less prepared: site management.
More than half of the principals surveyed reported having had no prior experience, or minimal experience, in key job functions related to site management, such as managing a school site budget (66%) or, even, just participating in the development of such a budget (59%).
Compounding this lack of prior managementrelated experience have been budget-driven cuts in school support staff and in resources for training principals or providing them with mentors.
Cuts have also reduced the number of other personnel — assistant principals, instructional coaches, and other administrative staff — who, in the past, might have assisted with instructional leadership responsibilities or administrative duties, all of which now fall to the principal.
A majority of principals reported, too, that other support staff — counselors, librarians, instructional aides, and custodians — had been eliminated at their school.
A majority also reported rising class sizes for their teachers.
Principal as teacher evaluator.
Few disagree that teachers should be evaluated regularly.
Agreement about method and purpose remains more elusive.
Should evaluation results be used to strengthen practice, to root out poor performers, or both? Should students’ academic progress be measured as part of their teacher’s evaluation and, if so, how and to what end? Are principals qualified to be effective classroom observers for formative or summative evaluation purposes? California’s relatively new principals bring varied experience in conducting teacher evaluation.
Six in 10 survey respondents reported having had moderate or significant experience with formally evaluating teachers prior to becoming a principal.
This leaves 4 in 10 with little or no experience.
In California, like elsewhere in the nation, two evaluation methods are generating discussion and debate: the “value-added” approach, which attempts to measure a teacher’s contribution to students’ academic growth over the year, and meaningful classroom observation carried out by principals (or other instructional leaders).
Six in 10 survey respondents reported that they always review student results on state tests when evaluating teachers; this suggests that 40 percent of principals do not typically consider state test results in teacher evaluation, in spite of state law requiring them to do so.
Asked about their experience with conducting classroom observations to see teachers in action, nearly three quarters of responding principals reported having had moderate or significant experience conducting such observations.
While having such experience may be better than not having any, experience alone does not necessarily translate into effective observation or evaluation.
Once on the job, only about a third of principals reported that they received professional development to any great extent in either evaluation or in how to conduct classroom observations.
Nonetheless, many principals expressed confidence in their ability to evaluate their teachers — even when they did not have expertise in the subject matter being taught by a teacher.
Our interviews with teachers indicate, however, that teachers wish they could receive feedback and support from content experts that would help them to improve their practice.
Survey results make it clear that California principals want more time to evaluate their teachers and would like additional training in order to become more effective evaluators.
It’s also clear that many do not find their current approach to evaluation to be useful.
Only about a third of respondents reported using results of such evaluations to inform to a great extent either teachers’ professional development plans or schoolwide professional development goals.
Just under half reported that teacher evaluation results inform to a great extent whether or not a teacher is retained.
Nearly 2 in 5 principals reported that, when a teacher is not performing satisfactorily, they tend to handle the matter outside of the formal teacher evaluation system.
When asked about perceived barriers to improving teaching quality, nearly half the principals identified the influence of teacher seniority on staffing decisions as a “serious barrier”; nearly three quarters also identified as a serious barrier cumbersome procedures to remove a teacher who has been identified as unsatisfactory.