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Shameless Boosterism

The New York Post‘s campaign for continued mayoral control of the New York City schools got a boost yesterday from a trio of puff pieces by reporter Carl Campanile. You could tie a rock to these stories and they’d still float away. skoolboy’s favorite is about the Leadership Academy, the “corporate-style” principal training program “inspired” by Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Founded in 2003, and supported by $80 million in tax-exempt donations over the past five years, the Leadership Academy’s Aspiring Principal Program has trained several hundred school leaders. Campanile’s article states that there have been 336 graduates of the program, and that, as of January, 228 are principals, with an additional 80 or so working in other leadership positions in the DOE.

You could derive an average cost per principal by dividing the $80 million by the 288 working principals—about $350,000—but not all of the Leadership Academy’s expenditures have been on the Aspiring Principal Program. The Leadership Academy also provides support for first-year principals, technical support for principals opening new schools, and coaching for new and experienced principals. Still, the raison d’etre for the Leadership Academy is preparing new principals, and any evaluation of the program would likely focus on the effectiveness of the program in preparing new principals, and the costs of doing so.

Sandra Stein, the CEO of the Leadership Academy, is proud of the Leadership Academy’s accomplishments. In a 2006 article in Educational Leadership, she wrote:

Not every entering candidate is advanced through the program; our graduation rate for our first two classes has been 86 percent and 77 percent respectively. That graduation rate is below 100 percent by design. Unlike pass-through programs in which everyone who enters graduates, our participants know that we are serious about preparing leaders on such an accelerated timeline. In some instances, candidates withdraw on their own after realizing that they do not truly aspire to become principals or cannot do so on an accelerated timeline. In other cases, we counsel candidates to consider alternative professional options, including a less accelerated training or additional years of teaching to hone their craft.

A graduation rate that’s below 100 percent by design! I know some high schools that would like to use that logic.

It’s commendable that the program weeds out candidates who are judged to be poor prospects for a principalship. But it’s also inefficient to expend time and money on individuals who will never be principals when preparing principals is the program’s primary purpose. Perhaps the screening process has improved over time.

Mathematica Policy Research is in the midst of a three-year evaluation of the Leadership Academy. One wishes that the Department of Education had waited to see the results before awarding a five-year, $50 million contract to the Leadership Academy last July, in a remarkably incestuous arrangement.

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