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Principals' Morale Declining: Some Possible Reasons Why

In the new annual MetLife survey of teacher and principal morale published this morning, it's hard to choose which results are more discouraging:

  • Three out of four principals say their jobs have become too complex.
  • Nearly half say they feel great amounts of stress many days of the week.
  • A third of them report they will likely leave the profession within the next five years.
  • And, perhaps most troubling of all, job satisfaction among school leaders fell off significantly in the last five years with 68 percent reporting they were "very satisfied" in 2008 compared with 59 percent reporting the same in the new survey.

Liana Heitin has a full write-up on the survey, including what teachers reported, on edweek.org.

So what's behind all this trending down of morale and job satisfaction levels?

Let's look at how the public schooling landscape has shifted in just the last five years. One of the most tectonic changes has been the dramatic shrinking of resources for schools. The recession, followed by a weak economic recovery in many parts of the country, has forced many school districts to make painful spending cuts. Principals were usually on the front lines of that pain when teachers and other staff members were let go and instructional programs for students were scaled back or cut to save money.

At the same time that budgets were being squeezed, new demands and responsibilities have been coming at school leaders. Chiefly, principals had to begin preparing their faculty for the rollout of the Common Core State Standards—no easy lift. And they have had to radically change the way they judge teachers' performance, as a growing number of districts overhauled their teacher evaluation systems to reflect, in part, how well students are doing. Finally, in the states that have been granted federal waivers from parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, school leaders are adjusting to brand new accountability systems to measure how their schools are performing.

Those three shifts alone could explain why seven out of 10 principals report in the survey that their jobs have changed dramatically in the last five years, and why three out of four say their jobs have become more complicated.

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