Clearly I, and many of you understand that the ranking of the U.S. Education system (Program for International Student Assessment PISA-science 28TH, reading 24TH , and math 36TH scores) among the participating countries in the world is not in any way an indication of the quality of leadership that exist within the school leadership ranks in this country. Yes, we acknowledge that principals and their leadership teams are culpable for everything that happens in the school; the “buck” stops with them. However, an examination of the conditions under which some of our principals and their SLT's lead, the circumstances that they face daily, and the policies and bureaucratic entanglements that they strategically and successfully navigate daily are all indications of how amazing our corps of America's school principals, assistant principals, and deans are. Given this fact, if we are willing to assume collective responsibility for the academic and achievement success of our students, and the improvement in practice of our teachers; it would behoove those of us who work in central/district office positions and serve in school support roles to increase our commitment to support them.
I respectfully submit that although there is tremendous value in exploring and implementing new improvement ideas and initiatives, during the past 20 years, there were too many that were simply superfluous. Curricula changes every year, shifting from small schools to community schools, change to schools without walls, to charter schools; to whole school reform, to school within a school, and with no end in sight around the continuous “flavor of the week” approach to school reform has not, and will not serve us well. As if this was not enough, the tumultuous education landscape was compounded by initiatives that included sporadic and short term implementation and changes such as standards based grading, deemphasize assessment requirements, to increased accountability for testing, exploratory and expeditionary learning, and many others.
Yes, there was some value add, and in many instances, we saw high returns and positive impact on outcomes in some of those movements and initiatives. In spite of this, we should still take issue with the fact that there has never been any true investment nationally in our highest need districts in REAL school leader development which targeted the competency deficits in such a way as to build capacity in the principal and assistant principal ranks at scale. Leadership preparation programs that do not employ the cloned approach to training, but demonstrates the intentionality of focus on the data points that includes; leader capacity, type of school, expectations of leader within a given timeline, and the needs of the leader or candidate with regard to those critical school leadership competencies are almost non-existent. The best attempts in recent times are the New Leaders for New Schools (New Leaders) principal preparation program, and maybe one or two others. The New Leaders data echoes that they have had some success and a strong impact on changing the educational leadership landscape via exemplary and culturally competent leadership, which in turn had the expected trickle down impact on teacher development and student achievement.
My dear colleagues and readers, I submit to you that the panacea for sustainable school and school district reform; especially a reform approach that explores a systemic and scientific approach that is coupled with authentic practitioner input, rests in truly investing in, and developing a solid cadre of school leaders who can inspire, develop, and motivate teachers and students for the next 20 years.
In the meanwhile, kudos to America's school leaders! Thank you for your service!