Another Attack on Principals?
Even before I began to read The New York Times front-page article, “Principals Face Review in Education Overhaul” (April 12) about the new school report cards it was clear from the headline alone that Joel Klein was following his basic instinct, one he shares with the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. The headline might as well have screamed: “Off with their heads!”
Of course, the public is conditioned to salivate over the prospect of a Principal being raked over the coals as well as to believe that the answer to failing schools is simply to change the Principal. One can see how these notions only serve to obscure the underlying issues in some schools and further remove the Mayor and his Chancellor from public scrutiny and blame. It is a clever marketing and public relations scheme.
Couched in the article was my favorite phrase that Klein uses time and time again: a “work in progress.” What does that phrase conjure for the reader or the listener? I envision an artist reworking his canvas over and over while the public eagerly awaits the unveiling. I am fairly certain that “works in progress” are rarely concluded and when they are, they never satisfy the waiting public.
So here we are well into the Mayor’s second term and the buzz around town is that we are again heading for a DOE reorganization. All the buzzwords are out there; Regions, ROCs, LISes and as always the promise of more autonomy for Principals. Principals savor that word and rightly so. Yet, autonomy in public service is limited by federal, state and local laws as well as local regulations. Budget demands, contracts and funding sources also may minimize autonomy. The roles of other city agencies and guidelines often interfere with the presumed authority and autonomy of Principals. And certainly, let us not forget the dynamics of internal and external politics swirling around Principals and Assistant Principals on a daily basis.
I am anxious to see what the Chancellor has in mind when he promises more authority to Principals in his Autonomy Zone. Will his new contract for Zone Principals pass the sniff test in relation to the current negotiated evaluation process and format for Principals’ ratings? I am anxious to see how many Principals will exercise their right to legal counsel before signing any contract.
What the public knows and cares about, however, is that Klein & Co. have a new way to grade schools. In his pitch to the public, the grading system has a direct link to the evaluation of Principals. CSA has yet to see the details of the plan. We have, however, demanded impact bargaining on the issue of Principal evaluations.
We are in for a colossal change in our thinking and approach to testing and instructional strategies. It appears that after extraordinary efforts by the DOE to control curriculum, strategies and learning materials, this new phase may place those decisions back into the schools. Is this part of the “work in progress”? It seems to me that progress implies “going in the right direction,” another phrase that this administration loves to use. If one is always going in the right direction, does that mean the goal will be attained or does it mean that, like Sisyphus, the goal will always be unattainable? In the world of public relations, painting the picture that every change is simply a new phase of the original reorganization diverts any blame and buys time. After all, change is a process that takes place over time. The only thing we know for sure is that this administration’s “time” is limited.#
Jill Levy is the President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.