Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Lacking Leaders

This from the Fordham Foundation:

A school’s leader matters enormously to its success and that of its students and teachers. But how well are U.S. districts identifying, recruiting, selecting, and placing the best possible candidates in principals’ offices? To what extent do their practices enable them to find and hire great school leaders? To what degree is the principal’s job itself designed to attract outstanding candidates?

In Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement, authors Daniela Doyle and Gillian Locke examine five urban school districts that have sought to improve their principal-hiring processes in recent years. They find some strengths—but also plenty of challenges:
  • The principalship is a high-pressure job in which the school head’s authority is generally not commensurate with his or her responsibility. It’s also a job that does not pay very well. Put these shortcomings together and it’s not surprising that many high-ability individuals are loath to seek such a position.
  • Recruitment of leadership talent beyond a district’s own boundaries is limited and uneven. Most principals are therefore selected from a group of individuals already on the district payroll. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, not much strategic thought goes into how to identify talent or find the best fit between the skillset of a new principal and the needs of a specific school.
  • Districts have built into their selection-and-hiring processes many sensible practices—and cronyism is less of an issue than it used to be. Yet those same rubrics don’t collect much hard data on candidates’ prior effectiveness in improving student outcomes.
In the authors’ words,
Our primary finding is that principal-hiring practices—even in pioneering districts—continue to fall short of what is needed, effectively causing needy schools to lose out on leaders with the potential to be great. Our research suggests, however, that better hiring practices alone are only part of the solution. Districts must also re-imagine the principal’s role so that it is a job that talented leaders want and are equipped to execute successfully.
Among their key recommendations are the following:
  1. Make the job more appealing—and manageable. Give principals the power to lead, including authority over key staffing decisions, operations, and resources.
  2. Pay great leaders what they are worth. Compensation must be commensurate with the demands, responsibilities, and risks of the job—and should reward success in this challenging role.
  3. Take a proactive approach to recruitment. Develop criteria to identify promising candidates both inside and outside of the district and actively seek them out. At the same time, identify and prepare internal candidates systematically and early—and eliminate barriers that might discourage high-potential candidates.
  4. Insist on evidence of a candidate’s prior success in boosting pupil achievement.
  5. Evaluate candidates against the competencies and skills demonstrated by successful principals.
  6. Design the placement process to match individual schools’ needs with particular candidates’ strengths.
  7. Continually evaluate hiring efforts. Collect and analyze all relevant data, and then develop metrics by which to assess each stage of the process, particularly in relation to the school results that follow.


Anonymous said...

Nothing new here, all of these recommendations have been floating around for some time. (Center for public Education, 2012)

The problem is not just recruitment, but retention. You get folks in the door who don't have much of an understanding about the position's demands. Seasoned administrators are increasingly non existent as they leave principal positions in greater numbers and after fewer years of service. In the absence you might have superficial state/district support programs or vendor produced one-size fits all generalized programs. THe fact is for most of us it was sink or swim and your best tool was a seasoned administrator who helped keep you in the saddle and offered a few key nuggets of wisdom.

We wouldn't have to recruits so much and when needed do so with greater care if the position had not become so untenable and overly demanding. My experience helps me weather ongoing demands but the work load has gone beyond the reality of the position. Now we have PGE thrown in with advisors telling us that principals are going to have to be in the classrooms much more and not engaging in supervision, community contact, financies, facilities, policy/district oversight, etc. So how exactly is that going to work?

Basically, sink or swim is becoming more sink for new folks who aren't given any authentic tools through MA/RANK I coursework. Fewer mentors and ever growing expectations from external forces. I have been swimming in this pool for over a decade and I am ready to float to the side and get out of the pool. Just isn't worth it anymore in terms of the rewards I use to see with students and teachers as well as the personal harm it has done to me as a father and husband as a 12 hour a day employee.

Anonymous said...

The average principal lasts about 4-5 years on the average which would seem to imply that instructional consistency, professional relationships, cultural growth (especially in schools with higher risk populations) are never going to be cultivated in meaningful ways. Good principals move up to "better" schools or to district positions. Teachers who move up to administration quickly find out that financial increase doesn't begin to cover the multidimentional costs associated with overseeing an entire school. So it shouldn't be a surprise that principals only last about 4-5 years on average when you have good ones moving up, some using it as financial capstone a few years prior to retirement or some wash out.

Anonymous said...

Saddest part is administrators and teachers don't even have a voice in this anymore. Doesn't take an outsider writing a book or article to recognize there is a problem with the system. Instead we want to try to blame individuals' behaviors and values instead of recognizing we are using as outdated a system under existing expectations, no different than the one room school house. Folks need to organize and start to push back before they get pushed out of the profession by outsiders who often know very little about education today.

Richard Innes said...

Anonymous June 29, 2014 at 10:49 PM must not be from Kentucky.

Under Kentucky law, the SBDM controls principal hiring. It is true that the superintendent now chairs the SBDM during a principal hiring meeting, but the voting ratio is still 3 teachers and 2 parents, and a majority rules. Even if the superintendent sides with the parents, the teachers cannot be overruled.

So, right or wrong, teachers in Kentucky do have major control over their principal’s selection. Kentucky teachers have had that power by law since 1990.

Teachers in this state cannot blame others for problems with principals. If Kentucky teachers are allowing the vote on a principal to be decided by others, they have only themselves to blame.

Anonymous said...

From June 29, 2014 @ 10:49 to Innes

My comments were to this story but aligned with another, not sure how it ended up in this thread.

Richard Day said...

Too often district administrators get tunnel vision. They look at their own positions and prod principals to focus (solely?) on instructional matters leaving a bunch of other critical areas without emphasis. Only a foolish principal would risk lapses in public relations, finance, student discipline …and other necessary parts of solid school management in favor of some director’s wet dream.

The most discouraging things I’ve heard recently about FCPS have come from former administrative colleagues who tell depressing stories about clueless leaders who seem to simply pass along responsibility for implementing whatever bright idea is the next down the pike. They claim that leadership is lacking under Shelton.

Richard: Don’t underestimate the Superintendent’s strength in the hiring process. Voting ratios? Ha! A lot of deference goes on.

Anonymous said...

Richard, I think you make a great point regarding leadership. I can't help thinking that we have gotten indoctrinated new leaders to not just looking at the trees but the bark on one of the trees that they don't even know they are in charge of the entire forest, much less see it.

Each year it seems like we are spending lots of time and money on raising some number two tenths higher from the previous year that we loss touch with the bigger picture. The more successful you are at bumping that respective number up, the harder it gets to move it higher and (or the converse, showing less than expected growth and your job is on the line)that desperation makes one more respective to unproven, external snakeoil gimmicks. You end up with fewer experienced administrators to mentor and settle they young ones and often have equally less experienced district level folks trying to guide school level administrators.

Anonymous said...


If those former administrative collegues believe Shelton lacks leadership, what do you think the school board's yearly evaluation of him is going to be? I think it is quite obvious that at least two members of this board have lost confidence in him and I could actually see another Skyped vote with respect to approving Shelton's evaluation.

I also see the upcoming school board elections getting pretty ugly between August and November. I think Amanda Ferguson will be very difficult to beat over in her district. If the rumors are true that Vince Mattox, Darryl Thompson and a few others asked Roger Cleveland to run against Doug Barnett to get back at him over stopping Thompson's pay increase, I could see that race getting particularly brutal.

I live in Rookwood and have kids at Northern so I keep up with this a little. I voted for Kirk Tinsley last time only because I knew him, but if I had to choose right now, I think I'd take Barnett based upon his position with respect to preserving funding for band, orchestra and the arts and for telling off Mike Scanlon. He seems like he will try to do the right thing regardless of what people think about him and he doesn't seem shy about saying what he thinks. From what I've seen on the internet, Cleveland seems to be a one-trick pony.

Richard Day said...

July 8, 2014 at 11:20: I have no clue what the superintendent’s evaluation will look like…or if Shelton has lost two votes. I would think it more likely that he loses Ferguson before Barnett, but a lot goes into evaluating a superintendent. There will be aspects of Shelton’s work that both of them may commend.

I also have no idea to what extent board members are aware of, or share, some principals’ complaints about deficient leadership.

Ferguson will be formidable as long as the Lexington Rotary connection exists. That’s 3 or 4 hundred members who are well-connected in the community. She has been known to spend as much as $5,600 on a local race. Ferguson’s mother, is (or was, I haven’t kept up) the long-time Executive Director. The group’s bylaws forbid involvement in politics, but they don’t always seem to police themselves.

Doug Barnett’s race may be the more interesting this time around. He seems to be warming to the idea of a scrap. I would not describe Cleveland as a one-trick pony, although much of his research and service center around issues of racial equity. On the one occasion we published together, I found Roger to be very professional, timely, and accurate in presenting his portion of our research. Neither man - nor anyone on the lay-board for that matter - knows what it takes to run a school.

Expect Cleveland to be the establishment candidate. Expect Barnett to paint him as a lowly money-grabbing consultant. Then wait to see what "unfiltered Doug" does.

I had a big problem with Tinsley not paying his taxes in a timely fashion and opposed his candidacy.

Anonymous said...

Months to prepare for a debate, two candidates that may not like each other very much, Roger Cleveland being a paid consultant and "Unfiltered Doug." Wow!

If Tom Shelton is smart, he sells tickets for $50 each to this thing. Might recover part of that $20 million!

Anonymous said...

"Unfiltered Doug" is alive! I live in Coldstream Station and see Doug walking the neighborhood with his new puppy quite a bit. I saw him one night this week and we talked about some things. He told me that he no longer trusted Shelton at all at this point because "he can't control his chiefs and can't be trusted to follow through on anything." I asked him about re-election and he told me he was told by a BMW parent he knew because their kids both went to Sandersville that "Vince and Darryl recruited Roger, and Tom gave his blessing to it." Doug told me point blank "this is all about Darryl Thompson not getting a pay raise in March. Nothing more, nothing less." He told me that he was very surprised by Roger filing because he supported Carter G Woodson. Doug told me that he thought about it for a long time and that he decided "to kick Dr. Cash and Carry's ass, no matter what." I gave him $25, told him to bring me a bumper sticker and wished him luck.