A Structural Scapegoat

Julia Steiny’s column yesterday on Rhode Island’s poor treatment of its school principals is worth a read:

In Massachusetts, principals can hire new faculty and make many of their own decisions. The Massachusetts 1993 Education Reform Act shifted much authority to the principals, with the understanding that they would delegate and share that authority with their staff. The quality of that state’s public education is now considered the best in the nation; empowering their school leaders certainly helped get them there.
In Rhode Island, the principal has the same mammoth responsibilities, but only nominal authority. Instead of allowing the principal and her staff to use their brains to solve problems, policymakers have prefabricated many school-level decisions and embedded them in labor/management contracts, state laws, Regents regulations and district policies. Principals don’t make decisions so much as interpret and implement the decisions made for them. The compliance-driven nature of their jobs crushes creative problem-solving.
Of course, school principals in all states, including Massachusetts, are overregulated to some degree. But Rhode Island principals are among the most heavily micromanaged, which is to say, they are asked to do their jobs with one hand tied behind their backs.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
16 years ago

It’s not only the principals that are overregulated and micromanaged but also everyone who works within the public education sector. With the unfunded (states must finance extra classroom federal requirements with extra taxes) “No Child Left Behind” law paperwork has tripled.
Please read the following report which researched and investigated over three years major driving forces in public education often overlooked. All data submitted by individual states is dated and verified as of April 2007 by the National Council on Teacher Quality “National Summery 2007; State Teacher Policy Handbook; Progress on Teacher Quality”

16 years ago

I agree generally with Ms. Steiny’s points. I have been part of a group that has advocated more “site-based management” in Providence schools. This would allow more principal control in hiring and firing decisions.
The dilemma has been this: How does one achieve this while preventing a return to the “bad old days” when principals give jobs to relatives or school administrators pressure principals to give patronage jobs.
Any suggestions?

16 years ago

Performance based pay, of which some portion (open to debate) is tied to overall school performance. That creates a financial incentive to hire talent, not incompetent but politically connected teachers who “know a guy.” (Side note: any examination of the hiring practices in RI today shows that a lot of that still goes on).
Worth a try — and that’s the whole point. Anybody who resists any and all change until a “grand plan” is in place that is, based on somebody’s analysis, guaranteed to work, is living in a dream world.
In the fact of a complex system that is changing in unpredictable ways, grand plans don’t work. Rather, the most successful organizations in these environments — whether they be the USMC, fire companies, corporations or not for profits — are those with a superior agility. This means a superior ability to undertake a range of experiments (plenty of ideas for these in the education area), learn from them, cut resources to the ones that aren’ t delivering results, and reinforce those that are. This isn’t rocket science — it is plain and simple good management practice in the 21st century.
And RI’s schools won’t improve until we adopt it.

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.