- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

Internal politics and bureaucratic red tape are the biggest stumbling blocks faced by educational leaders in public schools, according to a survey of principals and superintendents.
The best policy is to give school administrators "far more autonomy to run the schools while holding them accountable for getting results," nine in 10 school leaders responded in a study released yesterday by Public Agenda.
"In many ways, superintendents and principals seem to be chafing at the bit," said Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, which is based in New York City.
"They are convinced that strong leadership can transform schools and they are especially eager for more power to reward good teachers and remove poor ones but politics and bureaucracy just eat away at them," she said.
The study is based on a survey on school leadership taken this past summer of 853 public school superintendents and 909 public school principals.
Finding a talented principal is the first step toward turning around a troubled school, said 79 percent of superintendents and 69 percent of principals.
However, finding and keeping a good principal is often an arduous task, given the pressures and stress of the job, they said.
The job is "almost overwhelming," one principal said. "My desk is never clear of obligations constant interruptions from parents, teachers. Principals do not have a lunch hour."
Soul-sapping fights with school boards, labor unions, special-interest groups and other school officials was the No. 1 reason superintendents leave their jobs, said 81 percent of superintendents surveyed.
Problems stemming from politics and bureaucracy was also a major job killer for principals, but a significant 34 percent of principals chose "unreasonable demands brought about by higher standards and accountability" as the main reason they change jobs.
Both groups condemned their school "system," with 60 percent agreeing they have to "work around the system" or fight it to get things done.
Both groups said it was too difficult to reward good teachers and get rid of ineffective or bad teachers especially ones with tenure.
Superintendents and principals differed on who should be held accountable for student test scores. Sixty-seven percent of superintendents said it was a "good idea" to hold principals accountable. However, only 34 percent of principals held such a view, while 48 percent said it was a "bad idea" to hold principals accountable for students' grades.
Furthermore, superintendents did not hold their principals in as high esteem as principals held their superintendents.
Asked about 13 performance categories, principals gave their superintendents high or passing marks in 12 categories, with the lowest grade in their superintendents' abilities to "motivate and inspire the staff."
Superintendents, however, faulted principals in 12 out of 13 categories. Areas of greatest weakness, they said, were the principals' ability to motivate and inspire their staff, find talented administrators, use technology, build support with interest groups and hold the staff accountable for results.
Still, 73 percent of superintendents and 66 percent of principals said they would choose teaching again as a career.
"I know we make a difference," said one superintendent.


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