Buried in the New School Report, the Start of an Answer
In its focus on school leadership, the New School's recent report, Managing by the Numbers, provides a partial answer to a question I’ve long harbored: what happens to incompetent principals?
Teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct have been sent to notorious “rubber rooms,” where they await a hearing, known colloquially by its paragraph number in the Education Law, 3020a. While waiting, teachers are paid their full salary until the dispute is resolved. (For more on teacher termination, these articles are particularly detailed.)
Yet for principals, the process is less commonly discussed. Are there principal rubber rooms? Who is in charge of documenting principal incompetence? And just how hard is it to terminate a principal?
Managing the Numbers offers some answers. Each principal signs a contract with the DOE in which they agree to be held accountable for academic results. Principals are then evaluated based on a principal performance review, which weighs student progress (in the form of the much-maligned Progress Reports), the student population served, the principal’s compliance with budgeting and school services, and the principal’s ability to articulate and implement five goals for the school. There is a fifth component—an outside quality review—that is optional for schools that do well on their Progress Report. The largest parts of the evaluation are the Progress Report and the self-assigned goals, which basically mean that if a principal does well on the Progress Report, there isn’t much incentive to dig deeper.
As soon as a principal receives a low Progress Report grade, he or she can be transferred to another school, moved into an administrative position, or, if the conduct was particularly bad, terminated. The procedure for termination for a principal is similar to that of a teacher in that it includes a 3020a hearing, but the principal is suspended without pay until the hearing is resolved.
Under this new accountability framework, there has been an
enormous turnover in the principal ranks. Over 80% of the current crop of
principals started with the DOE after Klein took office. More recently, though, principal turnover has
declined. Annual retirements have decreased from 11.8% in 2002-2003 to 3.8% in
To be clear, there is a distinction between principal removal and principal termination. The report suggests that principals whom the DOE wishes to remove from schools are simply sent into DOE staff positions – not fired, and not sent to rubber rooms. Anita Gomez-Palacia, executive director of operations for the principals' union, is quoted as saying: “It’s very hard to prove incompetence based on test scores in the school building. It’s hard to prove the administrator is the cause of the problem.” In other words, it’s easy to get a principal out of a school, but there is less incentive or less drive to get a principal off the DOE’s payroll.
This information is helpful, but still leaves me with more questions. Just how many principals get removed from their classrooms? Is it possible to remove a principal that students and teachers may dislike but who has achieved good test results? How many principals have actually been terminated? What is the hearing process like—and how is it different from a teacher’s 3020a hearing? I would love feedback from principals and teachers to get a better sense of how principal accountability differs from teacher accountability.