7000 School Administrators Have a Voice (Continued)
Today we’re continuing the interview with Kevin Casey, the executive director of the 7000-member School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS).
The first topic today deals with tenure for teachers and administrators. Closely related to tenure is supervision and evaluation, especially given the current suggestion that effectiveness, not seniority, should determine who is laid off if budgets cutbacks demand a reduction in force. Here’s what Casey had to say:
ST: There is a lot of debate about doing away with tenure for teachers. While superintendents are the ones who recommend tenure to the board, they do it on the recommendation of principals or other administrators who supervise teachers. Do principals still support teacher tenure or do they believe that they can improve instruction if it were abolished?
KC: At the outset, I am not certain I would agree that the premise of the question is correct. Superintendents are the ones who recommend tenure to the board, and in theory, they do it on the recommendation of principals. We find that the reality differs significantly from place to place. Sometimes a principal’s recommendation is not sought; other times it is ignored (but there are also many places where it is sought and given thoughtful consideration). That being said, I believe that most principals recognize that teacher tenure allows teachers the freedom to make decisions in the best interests of children. In the absence of such protection, the motivation for decision-making [regarding lay-offs] may not be so pure.
Undoubtedly there are some principals who believe that they could improve instruction if they could readily remove those they saw as ineffective or obstructionists. Such an environment might result in a “be careful what you ask for” situation in which solid pedagogy would no longer be a primary motivation behind teachers’ day-to-day decisions.
ST: While teacher tenure has seen a lot of discussion in the news, the issue of administrator tenure has been absent. (I’m not sure a lot of people are aware that administrators are considered for tenure.) Is administrative tenure an important issue for school administrators? If so, do they see that as a separate issue from teacher tenure?
KC: Clearly administrative tenure is an important issue for an overwhelming majority of administrators. I suspect most administrators would recognize a substantial overlap between the need for administrative and teaching tenure, but I also believe there is a strong argument that tenure is even more important for the principals than for the teachers because the principals have a higher political profile, and are in more of a middle position with respect to dealing with the variety of stakeholder groups whose interests often conflict.
ST: Common wisdom is that the principal is the instructional leader of his/her building. Do principals see themselves as instructional leaders or have other management issues overtaken their responsibilities?
KC: I do believe that principals see themselves as instructional leaders of their buildings, and a majority of individuals who pursue the principalship do so to be instructional leaders, so I would answer yes to the first half of your question, but also yes to the second half of your question. Other management issues have made it increasingly difficult to be an effective instructional leader. This relentless “workload creep” is seen by many principals as reducing the time and attention directed toward instructional leadership, and a disincentive to those who would otherwise aspire to the principalship.
ST: Do most principals see themselves as competent supervisors and evaluators of teachers? How important are these roles for the principal?
KC: Most principals see themselves as competent supervisors and evaluators of teachers, with emphasis on the word competent. There is concern with the extent of the preparation of principals with respect to this particular function. I also think you would generally find a lack of ongoing professional development relative to evaluation. It is only fair to those being evaluated and to the children that they serve, that those evaluations be meaningful and of high quality.
ST: Waiting for Superman focuses for the most part on big city districts. The national debate about the quality of education in the United States tends to focus on big city districts. Yet, we know that schools are different in city, suburban, and rural districts. Is there any way for school people to respond to this general criticism of public education without being divisive?
KC: As educators that it is important to be thoughtful and factually accurate. Most of the public debate is superficial and occurs in sound bites. It is also important to recognize weaknesses without being defensive. A lot of money and a lot of brain power is dedicated to improving results. It is safe to assume that if fixes were easy they would have been implemented already.
Despite the differences in types of districts around the state, the debate needs to be brought down to the local level, where those that are engaged may participate in it through the prism of their local environment. I still believe that there are thoughtful people involved with the education process that think beyond sound bites and are willing to engage in substantive debate.
I am grateful to Kevin for his thoughtful and considered responses that improve the quality of the debate.