Grading Principals: Administrator Evaluations Come of Age

By Murphy, John A.; Pimentel, Susan | Phi Delta Kappan, September 1996 | Go to article overview

Grading Principals: Administrator Evaluations Come of Age


Murphy, John A., Pimentel, Susan, Phi Delta Kappan


Most school districts hold tight to a compliance mentality that rewards school staff members for following the rules. In those districts, competence is defined by a check list filled out by a central office manager after brief annual visits to classrooms. Mr. Murphy and Ms. Pimentel describe a better way - a results-based evaluation and profit-sharing system now in use in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

America's public schools have their evaluation and reward systems precisely backwards. Whether a matter of oversight or a sign of reluctance to change, public education is an enterprise in which competence and incompetence are largely ignored or noted without distinction. The most egregious example is paying the best employees the same as the worst. Whether you do a good job educating students or a bad job, you are treated the same. In fact, not much effort is put into figuring out who is and who isn't doing a good job.

Most school districts hold tight to a compliance mentality. Staff members are rewarded for following the rules. Few incentives urge risk-taking, improved schooling, or high academic outcomes for students. Competence remains defined by a check list filled out by a central office manager after brief annual visits to classrooms. Redefining learning in this nation requires redefining accountability and assessment - for both students and staff. To improve performance, we as a profession must join the modern corporate world and move to a well-conceived, results-based evaluation and profit-sharing system. We cannot allow an institution with a 50% failure rate to continue to operate unchallenged and unchanged for even one more year.

The good news is that no one wants to do a bad job. Educators want to do the job right; therefore, management must provide the right incentives. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in North Carolina accepted this challenge, and early results have been good. The recipe for success is simple: reward staff members when they succeed with students, shape them up when they falter, and replace them when they fall to improve. The new system - a far cry from principal evaluation check lists - identifies and rewards educational excellence and ensures that principals get the assistance and support they need to be successful.

It is management by exception. The "good" principals breathe easy. As long as they produce good results, principals are home free. As long as their means to success are moral, legal, and ethical, how they choose to get the job done is up to them - no more looking over their shoulders, no more interference from central managers. For principals who fall to make the grade, the story changes: they don't - can't - escape attention or intervention. Like it or not, the full force of the central office descends on the failing school - and on its principal - in an effort to determine the source and scope of the problems. Principals report directly and often to the superintendent for guidance and direction. Plans for improvement are quickly put into motion. In short order, progress is forthcoming, or principals are relieved of their duty.

Build an Evaluation System with Bite

Before the switch, the ol' boys' network had a firm grasp on CMS. Control of the evaluation process rested with a handful of central office managers. The correlation between "making nice" to those in power and high ratings was all too certain. From a few personal snapshots, central managers determined whether or not, in their opinions, principals were making the grade. The evaluation tool - a holdover from the state - was a check list of process, administrative trivia, and personality traits. It is a matter of common sense that rules don't teach. If children don't learn, it doesn't much matter that regulations and guidelines are followed or even that the public's money is spent according to the law. Burdensome rules and formulas make staff members focus on the wrong things. …

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Grading Principals: Administrator Evaluations Come of Age
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