Who Wants to be a principal?
Turns out not too many people are all that interested. In the DC public schools, one in four schools has had at least three principals since 2012. The common wisdom is that a principal should stay in a school at least five years to implement his/her vision and to build community support. That is just not happening. For once in education the issue is not salary. Principals are paid relatively well. There are multiple other factors that are at play in this constant churn.
Since No Child Left Behind, principals have been evaluated by the test scores of the children in their buildings, just as teachers are evaluated by the test scores of students in their classes. Many principals want to be in districts where the socio-economic levels lead to higher test scores. So, principals with seniority get to get transferred within the present district to a “better” school. Others want to get out of the system all together and seek out other school systems.
Being kicked to the central office in a school system is often a very good thing. That means no more teacher personnel issues, not more haunting test scores and no more complaining parents. Many principals work hard to land what are perceived as easier jobs at the same or higher salary. There used to be a time when being a principal was the aspirational job. That isn’t true anymore.
And the unions are not making it any better. Unions are all too ready to sacrifice the right of students to a decent teacher at the alter of keeping jobs for union members. Most big school systems have a holding tank of teachers in reserve. Many of these people are in the ready reserve because they are in the process of having their employment terminated. That termination is, of course, being fought by the union. Others have lost positions because of being excessed by other principals for budget cuts. A new policy of the New York City school system is requiring principals to select new staff from this pool. Many of the teachers in this pool are there for disciplinary reasons and shouldn’t be in a classroom at all.
School systems are getting better at keeping principals in schools but the forces of union protectionism, rating principals based on test scores of students, and limiting the principal’s authority to hire and fire, all conspire to keep the weakest principals in the schools that are in the most desperate need of good leadership. But then again, who wants to be a principal anyway?