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Teacher group: Principal evals should count attrition, discipline

Principals are already evaluated on test scores, parent and teacher surveys, and their compliance with an array of policies. But their performance should also be assessed on new measures, including teacher retention and the number of students suspensions under their watch.

Those are key recommendations being published today in a new paper by the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence. A policy team of 18 public and charter school teachers reviewed research, examined current policies, and surveyed 197 colleagues to reach their conclusions, which will be discussed tonight at a panel on principal evaluations.

The paper, called “Principals Matter: Principal Evaluations from a Teacher’s Perspective,” seeks to emphasize the teacher’s point of view on the issue.

That includes the proposal that principals “be given credit” when effective teachers stay at their schools. In a city where half of all teachers leave the profession after five years, the paper concludes that “effective teacher retention data can illustrate a principal’s ability to support teachers and should be one component of a principal evaluation system.”

The paper also recommends that student suspensions should be considered when measuring a principal’s success at developing a safe and culturally responsive environment.

E4E is a two-year-old group founded by Evan Stone and Sydney Morris, former teachers who organized teachers around a core set of values about the profession, including an opposition to seniority-based layoffs. The group is backed by the Gates Foundation and has been aligned with education reform groups that have battled the teachers union on many issues.

Previously, the group’s policy papers on seniority-based layoffs and teacher evaluations have been heavily criticized by teachers and education activists who oppose the Bloomberg and Obama administrations’ current reform agendas. By wading into principal evaluations, the group is taking on an issue that has drummed up little of the controversy that accompanies debates about teacher effectiveness.

“I really think that even principals are going to like it, as much as anybody can ever agree on something,” said Tara Brancato, a music teacher at a small high school who helped lead the policy team. “I think that this is a step we need to take and I think it’s a kind of welcomed step.”

The paper cited research that surveyed 5,000 New York City teachers and found that 40 percent left because of dissatisfaction with their schools’ administration. To tie principal evaluations to teacher retention, the paper suggests surveying outgoing teachers to understand why they left. The paper does not distinguish attrition based on teachers who left the profession versus teachers who simply move to another school.

The principal of a small high school praised the group’s recommendation that principals be evaluated more often and for longer periods of time. But he challenged the idea that teacher attrition should count in his evaluations.

“I think the reality of the [Department of Education] now is that there’s a lot more teacher movement than there was 10 years ago and I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing,” said the principal, who asked to remain anonymous. “I think there’s a lot to be said for teachers to go to a school that’s the right fit for them and it doesn’t necessarily mean the principal is doing a bad job.”

The principal also questioned adding suspension data to the evaluations. “I don’t think suspension rates are a good way to measure a school tone,” said the principal, who argued that the surveys the city currently distributes to teachers, parents, and students are a more accurate measure of school culture.

Overall, the principal said, the report reflected an even-handed approach to the issue of principal evaluations. “Clearly it’s something they put a lot of thought into,” he said. “It doesn’t come across as ideological or driven by a particular agenda.”

Yet skepticism about the group’s agenda has continued to come in from some vocal critics. Arthur Goldstein, a veteran teacher and UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School, said he wouldn’t read the paper because he questioned the group’s credibility. He said the group more interested in pushing policies supported by the Gates Foundation, which funds E4E, than that of actual teachers.

“My opinion is that those writing the paper are utterly unqualified and without merit,” Goldstein wrote in an email.

The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents principals, declined to comment formally on the paper. CSA Vice President Peter McNally said a representative from E4E had approached him about the group’s work but that nothing had come of the conversation.

But a CSA official told GothamSchools that the union “had concerns with some of the recommendations” in the paper, especially the one calling for teacher retention to count in a principal’s rating. The official said retention is influenced by “numerous outside factors that cause teachers to leave the system.”

The union official also raised doubts about the paper’s recommendations for new observations, which called for “multiple observations by trained supervisors.” Multiple observations, the official said, “could become problematic, especially in the fall when school leaders are trying to get students and staff on schedule.”

Educators 4 Excellence’s complete policy paper is below.

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