The chancellor of the New York City Public Schools recently announced a new plan to hold principals accountable for improved student performance on standardized exams. ( New York Times, Metro Section, Tuesday March 6th 2007). The Department of Education is paying IBM 80 million dollars to develop a new storehouse for data that will track each of the city’s 1.1 million students. IBM. 80 million dollars. Data storehouse.
It’s hard to believe we are talking about places where young children fall in love with Stuart Little, create Valentines for their classmates, cut pizzas to learn fractions and give out cupcakes on their birthdays. And the result of all that data collection will be a letter grade. Yes, each school will become known as an A to F. That ought to make the real estate agents revise their neighborhood advertisements.
We don’t need better storehouses for data. We need better schoolhouses for children. Principals don’t become better leaders because they are graded. They become better leaders because they know quality instruction and they know how to attract, inspire and support wonderful teachers.
What would you do to improve the education of 1.1 million students if you had 80 million dollars in your pocket? I’d be tempted to add to my shopping cart such essential educational items as luxurious classroom libraries, more plentiful and effective professional development, as well as sufficient funds for field trips- here in New York City- to all our museums, historical sites and Broadway shows. Then too, I’d want all students to have access to such life-affirming and life-changing experiences as quality instruction in art, drama and music. Or cooking, carpentry, gardening, playing chess, etc. (Students immersed in a world of fascinating studies do become committed readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and overall problem solvers. Isn’t that what schools are for? Isn’t that what all parents, those who work at IBM and those who teach in our schools and those who drive our buses and those who cut our hair, isn’t that what all parents want for their children?).
Yes, I’d be tempted to place those high-ticket items on my shopping list, but above all I would use that money to encourage the folks with the most instructional know-how in our city, our best classroom teachers, to want to become principals. I know of no other way to close the achievement gap than to improve instruction. I know of no other way to improve instruction than to have brilliant instructional leaders at the helm of every school. I know of no other way to attract quality teachers than to have a principal who knows how to hire, inspire, and support those great teachers.
(Such brilliant leaders, even on shoestring budgets, but with their priorities in order, often find ways to provide abundant classroom libraries, field trips and specialty classes. And they themselves can offer powerful professional development).
Some of that 80 million, of course, would be used to finance administrative degrees. Some would be used to raise salaries. But some must be used to restore the role of principal to instructional leader. Surely, we can come up with ways to remove the mounds of bureaucratic trivia that are now drowning city principals. If we work hard to attract wonderful educators into the principals’ office, wouldn’t it be shameful if they then had no time to be in classrooms?
Brilliant teachers will not aspire to administrative positions if they know that their days will be filled with answering e-mails, filing reports, filling in surveys, hosting evaluators, and of course, staring at data reports until their eyes burn.
If all schools, in all neighborhoods, in all towns and all cities are ever to be considered “A +,” we must rethink our priorities. Schools don’t become better because we have better systems for data collection. Schools become better because all the adults involved in that community are relentless about improving teaching and learning.