Wednesday, December 14, 2011

California Principals Between a Rock and a Hard Place


New report by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd finds principals challenged to meet dual roles of school manager and instructional leader

A new survey of more than 600 school principals finds California’s school site leaders between a rock and a hard place. Historic budget cutbacks present significant challenges to classroom teachers, thereby increasing the importance of the role principals play as a source of instructional leadership and support. But California’s disinvestment in its schools is also expanding school management responsibilities for principals. Facing growing demands and declining resources, school principals increasingly struggle to find the time, resources and capacity to meet the dual challenges of effective school management and ensuring quality instruction for California’s students.

These findings and others can be found in The Status of the Teaching Profession 2011, the annual report on California’s educator workforce by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd with research by SRI International.

“Research shows that second only to classroom teachers, school principals play a key role in improving student achievement,” says Holly Jacobson, director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. “But budget cuts and increasing accountability pressures are clearly making the job harder. Just as teachers most need their support, principals have more to do, and less time, resources and support to do it.”

In addition to its findings on school principals, the report provides new information on key issues impacting the teaching workforce, including more than $100 million in cutbacks to teacher professional development, a dramatic decline of more than 50% in the enrollment of prospective teachers in training programs, a 40% drop in the production of newly credentialed teachers, and escalating retirements. The report also makes clear that California does not have the data system it needs to inform and guide future education policy decisions.

“California has increased its educational expectations, embracing the new Common Core State Standards and more meaningful systems of assessment, but historic budget cuts are impacting the abilities of teachers and principals to do their jobs,” says Patrick Shields of SRI International. “Schools are struggling to get the resources they need to increase student learning and California faces heightened uncertainties as to whether it will be able to meet future demand for a high quality teacher and principal workforce.”

Amid an increasing state and national focus on teaching quality, the report also examines the capacity of principals to conduct teacher evaluations. While the majority of principals have prior experience in key areas of evaluation, more than one third of principals say they had no or minimal experience in formally evaluating teachers prior to becoming a principal. One quarter report they had no or minimal experience in conducting classroom observations. Once on the job, about one third of principals say they receive minimal or no professional development in these areas of teacher evaluation.

When it comes to using the information to strengthen teaching, just over one half of principals strongly agree that their administrative team has the expertise needed to conduct classroom observations to identify teachers’ areas of need. And while a majority of principals say that formal performance evaluations inform individual teachers’ professional development or school-wide professional development, just one third say it does so to a great extent. Less than half report that teacher evaluations inform to a great extent whether teachers are retained. Almost 40 percent said that when a teacher is not performing satisfactorily, they tend to handle the matter outside the formal teacher evaluation system.

The report also examines principal’s views on barriers to teaching quality. Principals more frequently identified staffing-related issues than limited time or resources to increase the expertise and skills of their staff as a whole. Nearly half identified the influence of teacher seniority on staffing decisions as a “serious barrier.” Just under three quarters (73%) say overly cumbersome procedures for removing a teacher identified as unsatisfactory pose a serious barrier to teaching quality.

“California’s principals face significant challenges in meeting their dual responsibilities as school managers and instructional leaders and they are frustrated by the time consuming chore of removing unsatisfactory teachers, no matter how few those may be,” says Holly Jacobson. “But at a time when teachers may most need their help, principals are also greatly challenged to use evaluation in ways that inform and improve classroom teaching. California needs a fair and effective system of evaluation focused on strengthening the quality of teaching.”

The report also includes recommendations for strengthening teaching and leadership in California’s schools. The recommendations are focused on improving the state’s system of teacher development and evaluation in ways that strengthen the quality of classroom practice and address the challenge of preparing for the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. The recommendations also encourage the development of data systems capable of providing policymakers and educators with the information needed to promote student learning, strengthen the teacher and principal workforce and address educational equity issues.

Key Findings

Fiscal uncertainty — California’s new normal
More than $20 billion in cumulative cuts to schools and districts occurred between 2007-08 and 2010-11. School districts have responded by increasing class size, laying off teachers and administrative staff, reducing support and professional development for teachers, and reducing the number of instructional days. Schools face the potential of additional mid-year budget cuts.

Teachers — doing more with less

California’s budget situation is transforming the state’s teaching workforce and increasing pressure on teachers in the classroom. Between 2009-10 and 2010-11, the size of the student population increased, but there were nearly 13,000 fewer teachers serving the population. Average class size in grades K-3 has risen from 20 students in in 2008-09 to 25 in 2010-11, and in grades 4-12 from 28 to 31 students. There are also fewer instructional days. Just 43% of schools reported providing 180 days of instruction in 2010-11, down from 100% in 2008-09. There are also fewer personnel to support teachers. More than half (55%) of principals reported a reduction in supporting instructional personnel (counselors, librarians, aides) since 2008-09. Professional development for teachers has also been cut by more than $100 million since 2007-08, and many schools are using professional development funds for other educational purposes.

Principals under pressure — more management, less instructional leadership

Layoffs of administrative and support staff have increased the management and administrative responsibilities of principals. In 2008-09, California already ranked 48th out of 50 states in its ratio of principals and assistant principals to students. But nearly one third (31%) of school districts report a decrease in the number of school administrators since then. Principals also report reductions in non-instructional support staff, including clerical workers and janitors. As school districts reduce district administrative staff, some principals also report increasing district responsibilities and receiving less district support. Principals also said that prior to becoming principals they had little experience with the management functions of their job, with more than half saying they have minimal or no experience in such areas as managing a school site budget (66%) or developing a school’s master schedule (55%). These challenges are compounded by the relative inexperience of the state’s principals. More than half have been in the job five years or less, and 53% have been principals in their current schools for three years or less. Despite these needs, professional development for principals has also been reduced. Two thirds (67%) of school districts have shifted funds away from the Administrator Training Program.

Principals report working an average of 60 hours each week, but despite long hours, increased administrative responsibilities leave principals with less time for instructional leadership. Principals consistently cited the challenge of insufficient time to meet all their responsibilities: One in three principals cited insufficient time to observe teachers for formal evaluation and insufficient time to debrief with all teachers after classroom observations as serious barriers to improving teaching quality.

While a majority of principals report prior experience in core job functions related to evaluation, a quarter (26%) say they have no or minimal experience conducting classroom observations or walk-throughs. More than one third (37%) say they have no or minimal experience or formally evaluating teachers. Principals also face challenges in the use of evaluation to improve teaching quality. About one third say that formal performance evaluations inform to a great extent teachers’ professional development or school-wide professional development. Fewer still (28%) say evaluation informs allocations of resources to strengthen areas of teacher weaknesses. Just under half (45%) reported that teacher evaluations inform to a great extent whether teachers are retained.

Principal views of barriers to teaching quality

Survey responses suggest that when principals think about improving teaching quality, many think first about staffing—removing any poorly performing teachers and keeping more effective teachers—and second about increasing the expertise and skills of their staff as a whole. Nearly three quarters of principals (73%) say cumbersome procedures for removing a teacher identified as unsatisfactory pose a serious barrier to teaching quality. Nearly one half say the same about the role teacher seniority plays in staffing decisions.

Heightened uncertainties

California faces heightened uncertainties about the future. Current progress on student achievement is insufficient to meet federal accountability requirements. And expectations for student learning will only increase with the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards and assessments. But in the face of these new expectations, teachers are receiving less support at all stages of the teacher development system.

There are very few new teachers in the system, with just six percent of the workforce in its first or second year of teaching. Additionally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by more than 50% between 2001-02 and 2009-10, and the number of teaching credentials issued declined 40% between 2003-04 and 2009-10. Meanwhile, educator retirement is also steadily climbing — reaching 15,500 in 2009-10 — an increase of 21% over the previous year. California also lacks a statewide data system capable of informing policymakers and the public about decisions to address these and other educational challenges.

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