Amid the push for accountability, one rising trend puts school
teachers, rather than principals, at the helm of schools.
A school without a principal? It's becoming more common as
innovative teacher-led public schools crop up in the United States.
Detroit's Palmer Park Preparatory Academy opens for students in
pre-K to fourth-grade this fall. Boston and Denver each started a
school last year run by union teachers. And in Minneapolis, the
school board recently gave a group of teachers permission to launch
their own French-immersion school in 2011.
The idea has gained currency as debates rage over the best ways
to ensure that teachers can bring up student achievement. The
drumbeat of "teacher accountability" is getting louder - with
everyone from President Obama to district leaders calling for
teachers to meet high standards or risk being removed.
In response, more teachers are standing up to say, "Fine. Hold us
accountable. But let us do it our way."
While each teacher-led school is unique, the shared
decisionmaking is what defines them. The teachers' participation
tends to create a culture quite different from that in a traditional
principal-led school: Teachers can't hide behind the classroom door
or complain about policies, because they have to come up with
More districts are willing to experiment with a teacher-led
school because "we're entering a period where people are trying to
introduce variation into the system," says Charles Kerchner, an
education professor at Claremont Graduate University in California.
Many big cities have already tried to boost student performance
by standardizing procedures and teaching methods. "They've gotten
what they can from that, and it's not enough," Professor Kerchner
In Denver, teachers jointly govern the Math and Science
Leadership Academy (MSLA). By removing rigid curriculum dictates,
the school has attracted a top-notch staff that serves some of the
district's most disadvantaged students. District officials are
pleased with how MSLA has done since opening last year.
The teachers "appreciate that their professional judgment is
being respected," says Lori Nazareno, one of the founders and co-
MSLA, backed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, needed
a waiver from a state law requiring principals to evaluate teachers.
Instead, teachers set specific goals and give one another structured
feedback on a regular basis.
Ultimately, Ms. Nazareno signs off on evaluations, but the key,
she says, is the "ongoing improvement feedback loop." She contrasts
that with a typical school's evaluation process, where often the
principal just peeks into a classroom as a formality. …