What About Principal Evaluations?

Teacher evaluation is a hot topic in education reform circles. What about evaluating their bosses?

New York City is currently enmeshed in a debate over whether it should release ratings of 12,000 of its teachers, as The Los Angeles Times did on behalf (or in spite of) the Los Angeles Unified School District back in August. Teacher evaluation has been a hot topic in the last year or so, but one topic that is discussed far less is how school systems should conduct principal evaluations.

In September, a nonprofit called New Leaders for New Schools, which recruits and trains people to lead schools in urban settings, issued its recommendations for evaluating principals. Whereas teachers can be evaluated based on their impact on students, measured through test scores—controversially, of course—judging the effectiveness of principals is more difficult, as the decisions they make can have sometimes subtle (but systemic) impacts on a school.

New Leaders for New Schools suggests the following four criteria:

1. Make student outcomes and teacher effectiveness outcomes 70% of a principal's evaluation, and base the remaining 30% on the leadership actions shown to drive better results.
2. Base the evaluation of principal managers and other central office staff primarily on student outcomes and principal effectiveness, and give principal managers the tools and skills they need to effectively balance principal accountability with professional support and development.
3. Make the expectations of principal performance universally high and differentiated in ways that drive continuous improvement.
4. Ensure that the evaluation system is informed by principals and other experts and is adapted over time to reflect new understandings of the practices that contribute to increased student achievement.
Andrew Rotherham, an education expert and blogger for, explains that principals often lack the control to make big changes in their schools, both from a bureaucratic and a budgetary standpoint.
[P]rincipals frequently have little say over what goes on in their schools. Seniority rules limit how much input principals have about who teaches in their schools because veteran teachers can force their way in. In a strange twist, some supporters of increased autonomy for principals worry that today's emphasis on teacher evaluation could further disempower principals. Why? Because some districts are turning to third parties to conduct their teacher evaluations.
Getting to an evaluation system that works may mean empowering principals with greater flexibility and having them take accountability for their actions. With $900 million being meted out by the Obama administration to turn around failing public schools, we better make sure that our methods for evaluating the person steering the ship are not only robust but also fair.
Photo (cc) via Flickr user ecastro. \n
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