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'Highly Qualified' Principals?


Since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed in 2001, districts across the country have been scrambling to ensure that their schools are stocked with "highly qualified teachers." With the law up for renewal, some educators now are pressing lawmakers to pass similar requirements for school leaders.

As M. Christine DeVita writes in a recent Education Week Commentary, "we often fail to recognize that it is the principal alone who can ensure that the teaching and learning in every classroom are as good as they can be."

What do you think? Should the reauthorized NCLB Act include a provision on school leadership? If so, what are the best ways to find, train, and support successful school leaders?


Why not just woo them away from private schools that score so well. I mean, that is after all, isn't it, why we give vouchers to students to attend those schools? Maybe the principal can bring along his staff and then all our problems would be solved.

I think that the role of the principal as well as other leaders in a school is often overlooked. Even though principals are sure to have the educational qualifications (they must, after all, have a PhD), it is also necessary that they have the necessary skill sets and attitudes necessary for facilitating a well run school. Their decisions on managing the school, just like a C.E.O.'s decisions on managing a business have a great effect on how the school can accomplish its goals.

Never mind that we can not assess principal leadership or teacher quality,reliabily. We keep on trying. And ignore cognitive capacities which insure concentrations at both extremes.

I believe that the author of the article must have failed his courses in American civics. While national standards sound nice and neat...they are in fact unconstitutional. So is the author's suggestion that there be a national certification for principals. Feel free to propose a Consitutional admendment, but don't propose solutions that are not realistic.

Why not take a look at the data for a moment...has the push for 'highly-qualified' teachers made a significant difference? If yes, then why not proceed in that direction? If no...

In my opinion, we are only as effective as our leaders. It has been my experience that principals are often ineffective and oppressive, perpetuating punishment based systems. The real tragedy is that this systemic cycle of violence is modeled to our students.
I advocate for leaders who use positive reinforcement, not punishment, to create supportive learning communities. I agree with Mr. DeLuca, above, in that analysis of the data is a necessary prerequisite for creating systems that promote positive leaders.

Why stop with principals? Shouldn't all educators be highly qualified? I believe this is a "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" situation. Let's mandate everyone involved be highly qualified - right up to the school board. But let's start with parents, certified before they have children, because that's where education begins and is nurtured. Wait!! How about make sure we first do what is proven to increase student achievement...smaller class size and teaching thought processes rather than memorizing facts!?! Revolutionary!!

Can we push toward "highly qualified" status for our elected officials?!!?

Read the 5th grader's response! I agree.
Also, regarding the concept of moving the whole private school's staff: They would fail!! (You would have to replace the students as well.)

I am a new teacher and recently found out that principals make about TWICE as much as teachers and was told by an x-principal they have so much more responsibility. I would guess that these are the same responsibilities a teacher has in the education of the students in said school. The difference is, teachers are having their feet held to the fire by the government. No mention of the fact that if leadership is failing so are the teachers, who have absolutlely no say in the decisions made for them by the gov and school leadership. I feel like leadership needs to be equally accountable with equal consequences for failure. It is fascinating to me how the whole system is designed for teachers to take the fall for failure. Why not raise the bar of accountability and consequences to include "highly qualified (and paid) principals"

As a former elementary and secondary principal, I know for a fact the only way that principals can be held totally accountable for improving teaching and learning is to empower them with the necessary site-based leadership, resources, decision-making, and authority. Although NCLB can support the site-based initiative, I believe strongly in local control of the community and school board. If you want to truly hold principals accountable for school improvement, they must be able to hire their own staff, control their budget, and make meaningful instructional, curriculum, and professional development decisions at the building level. To whom much power is given, much is required!

The post from Kim/Teacher has it right: how many administrators (principals as well as central office supervisors) put in their minimum 5 years of teaching because they never really liked being in classrooms with students? These career administrators know that the big bucks ($100K + annual salaries)come with the insulated offices of their administrative assignments. They also know that administrative culture routinely scapegoats teachers for their own inadequacies as educational leaders -- it's shamefully easy to set up a teacher for failure -- stick 'em with huge class sizes, mindless meetings and paperwork, minimal administrative support, extra duties, inclusion students without sp ed support, no teaching supplies, yadda, yadda, yadda.

It's about time that the jig is up and deadwood, incompetent administrators (superintendents included) have NCLB accountability frameworks applied to them. (I have worked in an urban central office -- the nasty casual conversations I overheard about teachers made me sick.)

There are some observable characteristics in skilled leaders, however you can't make a cookie cutter that will automatically produce high quality leaders. A lot of quality in leadership comes as the result of a culmination life experiences.

If you have never been a school principal before you are lacking experience that helps you to fully understand that role. Yet there are so many who have never sat in that chair who are ready to put the principalship in an easily definable box. Leadership is an art to be mastered over time.

More accountability is needed for school principals. Public schools are microcosms of political arenas that unfortunately succumb to acts of croynism, nepotism, and good ol' boy networking. Too often are highly qualified principals overlooked just to get one of the boys or girls in the principal seat. We need to hold principals more accountable for their actions and inactions. However, if principals are being held accountable as such, they should be compensated accordingly. Performance-based pay should be a consideration. In addition, these educational leaders should be allowed to terminate tenured teachers who are not performing with not having to be concerned of grievances.

I have to admit that I am getting frustrated by members of my profession who continue to ask questions without stepping back and recognizing that we have yet to answer the most fundamental of questions: What, for example, is the purpose of school?; What does a good classroom look like?; What do we need to do when children lack the experiences and other developmental skills to achieve the outcomes we expect?, to mention just a few.

Instead we act as if we know what we are doing and get sidetracked by questions like this when we haven't decided what it is that education leaders need to be able to know and do.

Interestingly, while this conversation goes on we allow folks to take alternative paths to get certified. As a result, we can select education leaders from outside the education world while others claim a principal should need so many years of teaching experiences before being hired. Yet at the same time here in New York where I sit, or recently in Washington D.C. leaders are chosen precisely because they were never in the classroom and it seems the only requisite for appointment is an advanced degree from an Ivy League University. (Just imagine an other profession such as medicine that would allow that!)

I could go on, but I doubt anyone is listening especially in the government.

Performance based pay? All of the extra forms and paperwork are killing me. As a Special Ed Teacher, I have goals and objectives to measure every quarter as well as report cards. I have about 15 pages on each student at the end of every year and now I'm getting an additional 3 to 8 pages of paper trail added to the 15 pages. That isn't including any other forms that need to be filed to just request any additional services for a student. I'm getting no extra time, no extra pay and more students. Upon which performance would you like to base my pay? Teaching has become a hassel and it has nothing to do with teaching my students that are deemed unacceptable in the regular classroom.

Our schools are not equal in opportunities, our teachers are not equal in pay, our students come from poverty level homes. Some children are left behind before the game ever starts.

In my view there are several distinct problems with the management of our school systems. And management is what we are talking about.

School system management is a joke, and anyone who has worked in the business world will tell you that. And that is the crux of the problem. The school systems seem to think that just because you throw some theory at a person during post baccalaureate courses that makes them a manager. Mangers are trained from the ground up in business and promoted based upon performance, and they are let go when they do not perform, why should it be any difference in the educational world?

School management and teaching - all share the same problem - no experience, no apprenticeship as it were, no recognition of performance excellence, tight budgets, and job security. That is a combination almost guaranteed to encourage mediocrity.

Improving schools is an organizational problem. Of course we need to assess principals and demand high quality, ethical leadership practices. Asking teachers to excel without expecting principals to meet scrutinous standards is like asking the middle managers to make a company successful for an incompetent CEO.

The real question is how do we determine who is and who is not highlyqualified? Shall we draft another set of tests for principals? Perhaps we could create a principal aptitude test to help weed out the undesirable elements from our system. From there, the "qualified" people can develope tests to determine who should teach and who should have the opportunity to learn.
We spend words and time giving air to ideals such as highly qualified, with no real definition of what a highly qualified person is. Creating yet another "Catch 22" for education will not bring us any closer to improving the learning of our students.

Principals are poorly trained. I have s special needs son and have had to go over the elementary principal's head 56 times in a two year period due to his bad judgement.

Highly qualitied principals must also include the special needs child not just the main stream as it stands now!!!

The school is only as effective as the district instructional leadership and yes, the Federal Government can mandate a principal training program and national standards is the states accept the federal monies. New Civics lesson.

The principal makes all the difference from letting deadwood teachers direct the school culture into negative territory, to nonresponsive community involvement because 'she doesn't want them involved' to lacking true understanding of quality instruction. Most district hire according to the buddy system completely kicking effective administrators to the curb, leaving those that can make a difference out in the cold. Of all the schools in the USA, only those whose administrators with a solid proven record of classroom performance over at least a 7 year period, should even be considered for an administrative position, and only after a complete psychological evaluation.

Wel, it's about time! I have been saying this for years: there needs to be some professional accountability for 'leaders' within the schools. Many people are unaware of the lack of professionalism, ethics, and common sense of some of these school pincipals. Sadly, all it takes is a leadership endorsement and kissing the right behinds to put most people in these positions; that does not guarantee quality leadership. If someone took the time to conduct a study of schools that continually fail to make AYP, compare that with both student and teacher morale, I am sure the common denominator would reflect some issue with the leadership style. It has nothiing to do with vouchers, bringing people from private schools, etc., it is about leadership style. Use any successful multi-billion dollar business or one where people hardly ever leave (unlike the teaching profession) and you can attribute some of that job satisfaction to good leadership. I am not claiming that good leadership is the solution to all of education's problems, but it does play a large role.

As a SPED Teacher and 25 year veteran of corporate america and also MBA, I am of the thought that any group is only as good as their leader and success perpetuates itself. That's where it starts and ends with corporate philosophy in education. The objectives of corporate america and the objectives of our school system are miles apart. Corporate america is driven by greed and an ideal that puts ones self above all others. On the other hand, The objective sought in education is driven by love and a predominatly selfless personality (I realize there are exceptions to every rule). These two cultures are polar opposites, making them difficult to compare. My fear is the government will make an MBA, highly qualified to lead at the building level.

The school culture is a great way to start and if successfully achieved, will provide a rock solid foundation for the rest of reform initiatives which sounds great, but these 100 year old issues have yet to be solved, so to speak.

Sheldon,Ms./Mr. System's Thinker, and others, I am listening and I am glad you are speaking. Without your voices, all might be lost. With your voices at least I have a chance to think and confirm or de-confirm myself. You cannot believe tests and non-experience will make either a teacher or a leader. It is from study, listening to andexamining other voices, and gaining life's expericnes in as amny fields as possible that makes us competent/qualified. So please allow me to hear your voices that I amy examine mine.

Thank you all. One item, a principal does not need a PhD or EdD. Really no one does. We need the passion and desire to search and seek, listen and lead. Becuase I am a believer in the physics of it all, the DNA knows and leads. So why not hop on board for the ride, or perhaps drive.


In response to Susanna/Educator: In business, everyone has their area of expertise -- there is no one that is a perfect fit for every situation/position -- such is the case with education, as well. Some people have the talent and drive to lead and work within the administrative environment while others have the talent and drive to work in the classroom. It takes all kinds to make the system work. As Philip/Education Consultant stated, "If you have never been a school principal (or assistant principal) before you are lacking experience that helps you to fully understand that role. Yet there are so many who have never sat in that chair who are ready to put the principalship in an easily definable box." That not only applies to the government leaders, but also to anyone that thinks being an administrator is easy. At the high school level, administrators put in, on the average, a 14-16 hour day - everyday - for the entire school year as well as often having weekend duty. On top of that, they must contend with parent complaints and teacher issues that you would not believe! Why anyone would *choose* such a fate is beyond me (though I happily have done so), but it's a good thing that some do. Consider the consequences otherwise.

As a passionate and compassionate admininistrator, I never forget who is on the front lines in this "war," but it would certainly make the fight a lot easier if the teachers worked cooperatively with the administration -- I think a lot more would get accomplished if we remembered we are all working toward the same goal.

In my opinion, all "educators" should include the building principal. After all, the principal is the instructional leader of the building. He or she should be just as qualified as the teachers if one is to be appointed as the school leader. A principal with classroom experience in essential to the success of the teachers as well as the students of any learning community. If a principal doesn't understand curriculum and student learning, how can a teacher be assessed properly and student achievement improve? So, if teachers are to be highly qualified, administrators should be as well! Principals should be carefully chosen and not granted the job until they can prove their competencies. This may be done simply by teaching a lesson in a classroom or by evaluating a teacher. A principal is not the holder of the keys anymore....

Pricipals should be included in the term "educator". They are the instructional building head and should have the same, if not more, qualifications as classroom teachers. A schools success starts with the administrator and then trickles down. Administrators need to stay current on curriculum and have the drive to run a school. I am not saying that anyone can do it because that is not it at all. Never being in the position myself, I will not jump to any conclusions, but I do feel that administrators should have to follow the same guidelines as other educators in the building.

A principal needs the experience of the classroom for at least 3 years and then they can be deemed highly qualified. A principalmust know what it like to be supported in the classroom and understand the needs of a teacher in the classroom and the expectations of the teachers and most of all the ability to have a high social IQ-our children are too precious to just have an administrator!!

Principals should be instructional leaders. In my district, the track to a principal position starts in the gym. Phys ed teachers don't grade, don't have to crunch endless testing data, and rarely have parent conferences; they start taking grad classes at 22. The problem is that they have never been accountable for teaching content and process as measured by NCLB. It's hard to have a leader who has never been in a classroom.

I am inclined to agree that administrators need to be highly qualified, as they are critical to a school's success. Throughout the years, I have worked for mostly unqualified principals and currently am working in a district where few of the admins are "qualified."

In Michigan, there is no requirement for any administrator to be credentialed. Special education directors frequently have no experience whatsoever in the classroom as teachers. While I will not suggest that a mere credential guarantees a qualified principal, it would definitely make it harder to pass out principalships under the friends and family program.

Although I have a doctorate (from a Tier 1 university) and there is a supposed shortage of administrators, an educational consultant and a professor pretty much told me that it would be a waste of effort for me to try and become a principal. Those positions are being held for favorites and friends, regardless of qualifications (at least at the elementary level).

As a person who has worked in a central office, I can say that I too have heard nasty and negative
comments regarding teachers whom I know to be hard workers. I often see these teachers at school well past 7 or 8 in the evening, past the time when the administrators have left the building. Last year, a few of them left the building by ambulance due to stress-related conditions.

The negative environment is one reason that I intend to leave the profession early. I shall state, as well, that this is not because I lack the passion or drive to contribute (after all, obtaining a doctorate is not an easy, or cheap, undertaking). My choice is more the result of teachers NOT being allowed to contribute. In fact, I have learned to turn off my brain and shut my mouth at work. That this is the case in education really highlights the need for demanding that principals/administrators be highly qualified.

Many seem to want to model the schools after businesses, but any business that does not allow for the input of employees is pretty much doomed. Good employees that leave companies usually do so because of bad management. Those reading this should think of the 50 percent attrition rate among special education teachers within the first few years of employment. While general education teachers do not leave in the same proportion, many leave the field despite their serious investments of cash and time in becoming teachers. I would bet that most of those people who are smart enough to get out early go on to fairly successful careers. It is well known that we produce lots of teachers, they just don't want to stay in the classroom. Perhaps this is a management problem?

I wrote an entire book to answer this question. "No Child Left Behind? The True Story of a Teacher's Quest" by Elizabeth Blake on Amazon.com. My principal put 74 at-risk students into one of my science classes, in a small room. He also expelled one of my favorite students, for next to no reason. The best teacher in the world can't teach a student who's been expelled (for next to no reason)!!! He dismissed the students early for a Friday party, without warning the teachers, in the middle of a science lab I was conducting. Another principal told me, "Don't bother with these knuckleheads. They're not going anywhere, anyway." Etc. Etc. I describe how I dealt with these, and other, obstacles, in my dramatic memoir, called "The Up the Down Staircase of the 21st century."

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Recent Comments

  • Elizabeth Blake/science teacher: I wrote an entire book to answer this question. "No read more
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  • Karen, teacher: Principals should be instructional leaders. In my district, the track read more
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