I have been told that Bill Gates has a lot of money. To his credit, he has sought to use his wealth to better the world. No, I don’t mean a new version of Windows (which, trust me Bill, the world does not really need, or better yet, really does not need) but rather his efforts to improve the educational system in the United States. Mr. Gates, as well as almost everyone else (or so it seems), has turned his attention to the teaching profession. He has correctly concluded that improving teachers is the key to improving education.
What everyone now wants to know is how do we assess whether the teachers are improving? The simple answer: Create a standard for core achievement, test the students, add up the numbers and, voila, you have your assessment.
But, it’s never that simple. Much has been written lately detailing the immense complexity of such endeavors and why they have met with such resistance. The question which has not garnered sufficient interest is how this all affects school leadership. How do school principals, whether in the public schools or private academies, feel about the current debate? Will the newfound demands for school accountability, especially as regards student achievement and teacher success, change the focus of school administration, and is that a good thing?
I think it is. The plain truth is that there is no one in the school building better placed than the principal to accurately assess the students and the teachers. One thing that working with schools across the globe has taught me is that while much of education is similar from city to city or even country to country, many issues are distinctly site specific. These issues cannot be addressed without an understanding of the individual schools, their unique communities and particular organizational cultures. Only the educational leadership of each school can fully grasp the full picture, only they are aware of the multiple variables that affect student achievement, and only they can accurately evaluate teacher performance.
However, this calls for change. Unfortunately, while school principals realize their unique position in the school culture and role they could play in educational assessment, they rarely do so. Last week I quoted from Harvard professor Richard Elmore, who spoke of the role many principals do play, which amounts to acting as a buffer between the public and the teacher. “The administrative superstructure of the organization —principals, board members, and administrators—exists to “buffer” the weak technical core of teaching from outside inspection, interference, or disruption
He adds that in fact, “direct involvement in instruction is among the least frequent activities performed by administrators of any kind at any level.”
If we are to win back the trust of our public, the central role of school leadership must change. Principals must step back into the classroom and be intimately involved in the ‘ technical core’ of teaching. Principals must be held accountable to formulate site specific standards of achievement, which include reportable assessment for desired goals. The school community has a right to know what levels of achievement are expected, when and why goals are not being met and what you, the school leader, are doing about it!
Now if we could only get Bill Gates to explain why Windows always crashes…