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February 24, 2013

ON CAMPUS: Austin education seminar heads to principal's office

New research examines state records and requirements for principals, and finds big gaps between yesterday's rules and today's realities.

This is my final Austin in Austin blog -- and I still have no t-shirts. At this rate my sight-seeing will be mostly peering out the airport windows. But I hope that’s good news for readers, who’ll get the benefit of four days spent diving into data with other education writers.

Today we really did dive into data. I used an uber-statistics program to see what last year’s test scores showed about how well low-income kids were doing across the six-county region covered in the Bee and Merced Sun-Star. What I learned is there’s still more reporting to do to really know. But at least I have a better list of questions to ask.

Better questions to ask about principals was the theme of today’s speaker, Kerri Briggs of the George W. Bush Institute. Briggs presented a national report on state policies regarding preparation programs for principals and assessments are behind the times. While much work is being done on teacher preparation and evaluation, the principals that help them improve or make their work harder often get little support or oversight.

In California, standards for principals address hiring, developing and assessing teachers, implementing data-driven instruction and creating a positive school culture, but there is no evaluation system or records kept on principal performance by the state.

While strong teaching matters most among factors that affect student achievement, research shows principals, too, have a distinct and direct effect on kids learning, Briggs said.

Yet what she found was that 3 in 4 principals say the job is too complex and a large number plan to leave for other jobs within the next few years. Add that to upcoming retirements and it’s clear recruiting and retaining the best administrators needs to be a higher priority.

The recent firings of five principals by Modesto City Schools bring home just how important clear expectations and strong professional development are for school leaders. Clear expectations and high standards for those hired to replace them will be just as crucial.

But part of the discussion that has yet to take place across communities is a realistic look at what today’s principals do and the skills and qualities needed in campus leaders and training programs to get them there. Better state records and stronger training and licensing programs are a first step – and California still has one foot not quite on that stair. But state changes will be years coming and schools need the best principals right now.

That means it’s up to local boards and district leaders to clear the path and light the way, laying out priorities and firming up standards based on what – all together now – THE DATA SHOWS best serves students.

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