Are you an education reporter looking to do more investigative work but missed the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Phoenix last month? Perhaps the 120-degree heat scared you off. Not to worry: Here are five key lessons courtesy of fellow education reporters as well as journalists working on other beats.
Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Principals in the United States
National Center for Education Statistics
Results From the 2015–16 National Teacher and
More than a quarter of D.C. Public Schools have had at least three principals since August 2012, a pattern of upheaval that worries parents and teachers who say constant change in leadership can generate instability, inhibit trust and stall academic progress.
She applied her “listen-to-me lipstick,” a hot pink that commanded attention, and got into her Toyota 4Runner for the long drive to Fairmount Park Elementary. It was time for some frank talk with the teachers who were struggling in one of Pinellas County’s toughest schools.
The school improvement spotlight has, in recent years, shone brightly on teachers. Just outside of the spotlight, yet wielding significant influence in schools, are principals.
“We need to take more seriously that school leadership really matters,” said Jason Grissom, an associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University who has studied the subject.
David Baiz was disheartened.
He had turned in his annual comprehensive plan on how to improve the middle school where he was principal, Global Technology Preparatory in East Harlem. Now, New York City education department officials had reviewed the plan and offered feedback.
Baiz opened the officials’ comments expecting substantive suggestions about how to help his students, who faced many challenges. That’s not what he found.
A teacher shortage in Oklahoma. Data-driven analysis of the Detroit School Board election. Teen suicide. The impact of an influx of Central American youths on a high-poverty Oakland school. Four of this year’s Education Writers Association award finalists recently shared their stories and took questions from a packed room at the EWA National Seminar on how they did their work.
Rocking the Beat
Florida has taken an aggressive stance on placing new principals into struggling schools as a way to foster improvement. That’s on top of an almost annual spring changing of the guard that many districts implement anyway, often with the explanation they want to make sure they have the leaders who best fit each school’s needs. Reporter Jeff Solochek attended a session of the Education Writers Association annual conference in Washington D.C. where the issue of the principal’s role was highlighted, and spoke with D.C.
Ask the principal of any U.S. high school and they’ll likely tell you their goal is to graduate all of their students “college- or career-ready.” That is, students should be prepared to begin postsecondary education or enter the workforce and be successful.
Andrea Purcell, the principal of an all-girls charter school, is no different, despite the fact that her group of 120 or so high school-aged students are among the most at-risk for dropping out.
School principals often make the news because of a scandal. But several recent stories, plus a New York Times op-ed, take a deeper look at the critical role principals can play in a school’s success or struggles, and their impact on the daily lives of students and teachers.
Virtually every public school in the country has someone in charge who’s called the principal. Yet principals have a strangely low profile in the passionate debates about education. The focus instead falls on just about everything else: curriculum (Common Core and standardized tests), school types (traditional versus charter versus private) and teachers (how to mold and keep good ones, how to get rid of bad ones). You hear far more talk about holding teachers accountable than about principals.
The reauthorization of the U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act, referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), emphasizes evidence-based initiatives while providing new flexibilities to states and districts with regard to the use of federal funds, including funds to promote effective school leadership. This report describes the opportunities for supporting school leadership under ESSA, discusses the standards of evidence under ESSA, and synthesizes the research base with respect to those standards.
School district officials have faced the urgent task in recent years of ensuring that all schools, not just a lucky few, benefit from sure-footed leadership by professionals who know how to focus on instruction and improve it. The question boils down to this: How can districts develop a pipeline of great school principals?
Shelby Webb of The Houston Chronicle discusses her reporting on the gender disparity among superintendents in Texas. She and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also explore some of the reasons behind this statewide — and national — trend, its impact on learning, and what some experts say would help make school and district leadership jobs more appealing to female educators.
Teachers of Low-Income Students Are Nearly as Effective as Teachers of High-Income Students
Mathematica Policy Research
Although children from wealthier families outperform children from poorer families on achievement tests, a new study from Mathematica Policy Research finds that teachers of low-income students are nearly as effective as teachers of high-income students, on average.
Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.
Recent news stories once again have shined a spotlight on the troubling issue of teacher misconduct. Consider these headlines:
The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.
See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.
Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.
Given the key role that strong leadership plays in providing effective schools, experts, superintendents and universities say principal training deserves a “needs improvement” on its report card.
The nation’s numerous principal-preparation programs are hit or miss, according to Vincent Cho, assistant professor of educational leadership at Boston College.
“There are thousands and thousands of leadership programs operating right now,” and they aren’t all equal, Cho said.
For education reporters, coming up with fresh ideas for back-to-school stories is an annual ritual. And if you’re balancing the K-12 and higher education beats, it can be an even bigger challenge.
This report examines perceptions of university programs that prepare the nation’s future school principals, barriers to their improvement and the state’s role in encouraging program upgrades.
EWA Express Talks: Equity, Poverty, and Education
Video Resources from the 69th EWA National Seminar
This special, morning-long session features a series of speakers aiming to illuminate under-recognized or under-reported facets of the challenges of providing equitable opportunities for all students. Topics examined include social mobility, cultural questions, combatting trauma, and solutions focusing on equity.
Chalkbeat, the Indianapolis Star and WFYI are teaming up for a joint project to examine why inequality and segregation continue in Indianapolis 60 years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education outlawed “separate but equal” schools — and solutions that could lead to change.
A survey finds that school principals generally receive some on-the-job supports, but not a full trio of supervision, mentoring and professional development.
Schools in New York City are being asked to consider voluntary diversity plans in an effort to combat widespread segregation in the city’s schools.
According to its online call for proposals under the Diversity in Admissions Initiative, the city’s education department ”seeks to empower schools to strengthen diversity among their students through targeted efforts to change their admissions process.”
For every savant who’s skilled enough to ditch class and still ace the course, many more who miss school fall way behind, increasing their odds of dropping out or performing poorly.
The implications are major: If a school has a high number of students repeatedly absent, there’s a good chance other troubles are afoot. Feeling uninspired in the classroom, poor family outreach, or struggles at students’ homes are just some of the root causes of absenteeism, experts say.
Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.
For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.
It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.
Update: On May 2, “Failure Factories” won the $10,000 Hechinger Grand Prize in the EWA National Awards for Education Reporting.
The Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this year went to the Tampa Bay Times for an exhaustive investigation into how a handful of elementary schools in Pinellas County wound up deeply segregated by race, poverty, and opportunity.
A principal served four years and two months in prison for attempted murder. Another pleaded guilty to embezzling $73,033 in electronics from his school. One teacher struck a student, and several others were accused of misconduct involving students.
All of these individuals surrendered or lost their teaching license, and each of them was later reinstated by Mississippi’s commission responsible for disciplining educators.
An Alabama principal who was fired from her Catholic school post for allegedly embezzling funds claims in a new federal lawsuit that she was instead retaliated against for defending Hispanic students.
Building a Stronger Principalship, Vol. 4: Evaluating and Supporting Principals
The Wallace Foundation
This report is the fourth in a series of studies examining six districts’ experiences in The Wallace Foundation’s Principal Pipeline Initiative, a six-year effort designed to help these districts build larger pools of strong principals and then study the results. It explores the districts’ work to change their approach to principal performance evaluation so that it focuses on working with principals, especially novices, to grow into their jobs and concentrate on improving teaching and learning in their classrooms.
Since 2009, Teach Plus has worked to recruit and prepare teachers to take on teacher-leadership roles in their schools, districts, and states.
Founded in 2000, the New York City-based organization trains current and emerging school leaders, including principals, teachers, and instructional coaches, to work in high-poverty schools.
“CHURN: The High Cost of Principal Turnover” shows America’s schools, students and teachers are bearing significant, unnecessary costs from heightened principal turnover – or churn – because little is being done to provide principals with reasonable support after their second year in the position. The report is the first to reveal the litany of losses – including critical education resources, disruptions to classrooms and weakened student learning opportunities – that are occurring because America’s principals leave their jobs at a rate higher than nearly all other white-collar profes
Last week the White House announced a new higher education experiment that will direct federal grants to some high school students who want to enroll in college classes.
The plan is to start small, with the administration offering $20 million to help defray the college costs of up to 10,000 low-income high school students for the 2016-2017 academic year. The money will come from the overall Pell Grant pot, which is currently funded at more than $30 billion annually and used by 8 million students.
When a California middle school’s election results didn’t reflect the diverse demographics of the student body, Principal Lena Van Haren saw it as a teaching opportunity.
The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.
Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.
Five years ago, Nicholas Senn High School on the Near North Side of Chicago was one some educators felt lucky to avoid. While student discipline might have been an issue elsewhere, “you would say, at least it’s not Senn,” Principal Susan Lofton said.
Joe Nelson wasn’t the only principal along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August 2005 to face rebuilding a school in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But he did it with exceptional leadership, focusing on setting up reward systems for students and teachers and creating an environment where they could flourish despite the devastation around them.
EWA’s 68th National Seminar kicks off today in Chicago, and it’s going to be a fantastic three days of discussions, workshops, and site visits. The theme this year is Costs and Benefits: The Economics of Education. Be sure to keep tabs on all the action via the #EWA15 hashtag on Twitter.
Eleven Atlanta Public Schools employees on trial for cheating on standardized tests were convicted this week.
How much do you know about your district’s approach to hiring principals? Is there a cohesive effort to attract, train, and retain the most talented leaders? Or is it a scattershot approach that ultimately lets strong prospects slip away?
The third in a series of reports evaluating a multi-year Wallace initiative documents ways in which six districts are working to improve school leadership districtwide. It describes several new measures districts are implementing, including systematic support for assistant principals; the use of performance standards to hire and evaluate principals, as well as to inform training and support for them; and the establishment of data systems to promote more effective hiring, identify principals in need of support and provide feedback to the programs that trained them.
Behind every good teacher is a good principal, research shows. How can school districts make sure they have the right leaders in place? Too many school districts have haphazard ways of recruiting and nurturing potential principals.
Last month’s election spells trouble for the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade. With the standards increasingly being assailed as an unwanted federal intrusion into public education by conservatives, the Republican sweep of state legislatures – the party is now in control of over two-thirds of state lawmaking bodies – will likely lead to a new round of scrutiny of the standards and the tests tied to them.
As more research emerges on the sizable effect school principals have on student learning, some experts are asking whether removing principals who are rated poorly can lead to learning gains among students.
A new report scrutinizing schools in the nation’s capital suggests replacing low-performing principals with new ones is correlated with a modest boost in student academics.
Why are so many principals in Denver leaving their jobs? And what is the local school district doing to try and stem the churn? EWA Radio speaks with Katharine Schimel of Chalkbeat Colorado about her story looking into the high rate of principal turnover, and what it means for student learning and campus climate in the Mile High City.
Students at a Pennsylvania high school are getting a real-life lesson in the power of the press – and the many shades of gray that come with First Amendment protections.
After spending more than $3.5 billion on a program to improve chronically low-performing schools — only to see mixed results — the Obama administration is proposing major revisions to the menu of turnaround efforts that low-performing schools can undertake to qualify for funding under the program.
Time and timing are two other key barriers to principal data use, noted Jason A. Grissom, assistant professor of public policy and education and a collaborator on the study. “Principals face so many demands on their time already, so it can be difficult to find the time to access and analyze data, particularly when those data are not always available to principals at the time talent management decisions need to be made,” he said.
A Texas middle school principal who allegedly went on the school intercom system last school year to urge students not to speak Spanish and was subsequently fired, is defending her actions.
Former Hempstead Middle School principal Amy Lacey wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle this week about the incident.
The July 21 issue of The New Yorker takes us deep inside the Atlanta cheating scandal, and through the lucid reporting of Rachel Aviv, we get to know some of the teachers and school administrators implicated. We learn not only how and why they say they cheated, but also about the toxic, high-pressure environment they contend was created by Superintendent Beverly Hall’s overwhelming emphasis on improving student test scores.
Lacking Leaders: The Challenges of Principal Recruitment, Selection, and Placement
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
A school’s leader matters enormously to its success and that of its students and teachers. But how well are U.S. districts identifying, recruiting, selecting, and placing the best possible candidates in principals’ offices? To what extent do their practices enable them to find and hire great school leaders? To what degree is the principal’s job itself designed to attract outstanding candidates?
This study provides new evidence on the importance of school leadership by estimating individual principals’ contributions to growth in student achievement.
School leaders are critical in the lives of students and to the development of their teachers. Unfortunately, in too many instances, principals are effective in spite of – rather than because of – district conditions. To truly improve student achievement for all students across the country, well-prepared principals need the tools, support, and culture that enable them to be the best.
How should we judge the performance of Baton Rouge education reporter Charles Lussier?
That was the question posed by Vanderbilt University education professor Joseph Murphy, who suspected that by the second afternoon of EWA’s National Seminar his audience was ready for a fun exercise. Murphy talked about the difference between Lussier’s inputs (such as his education and technical skills), the work he does and his results (readership and response to his articles).
“What if we measure him on whether the paper increases circulation? Do you buy that?” Murphy asked.
Preparing Principals to Raise Student Achievement: Implementation and Effects of the New Leaders Program in Ten Districts
By Susan M. Gates, Laura S. Hamilton, Paco Martorell, Susan Burkhauser, Paul Heaton, Ashley Pierson, Matthew Baird, Mirka Vuollo, Jennifer J. Li, Diana Lavery, Melody Harvey and Kun Gu
New Leaders Principals Affect Student Achievement in Their Schools
- Students who attended schools led by New Leaders principals experienced slightly larger achievement gains on average than similar students in schools led by non–New Leaders principals.
- The magnitudes of achievement effects varied substantially across districts. They also varied across principals.
A Variety of Factors Could Explain the Observed Relationship Between New Leaders Principals and Outcomes
Joél Muñoz is Mexican-American, learned English as a second language, and was the first in his family to graduate high school and college.
He also is the only Latino administrator in the Indianapolis Public Schools, even though about 22 percent of students are Latino. Only about 48 of the district’s teachers were Hispanic in 2011.
We’re in countdown mode for EWA’s 67th National Seminar, which starts Sunday at Vanderbilt University. This week, I’ll be revisiting a few earlier posts that provide good background reading for some issues we’ll be tackling in Nashville. First up: School leadership. (For more on this and other key issues, check out EWA’s Topics Pages.)
When it comes to having their voices heard, teachers overwhelmingly say they aren’t being listened to on matters of education policy at the state or national level.
At the school level, however, 69 percent of teachers said their opinions carried weight, according to the third edition of the “Primary Sources” survey by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was published Tuesday.
In episode 4 of EWA Radio, Emily Richmond talks to Gabrielle Russon of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about covering teacher evaluations from the perspective of teacher and principal.
One of the education system’s most powerful influences on student learning is often ignored — the school principal. Journalists frequently find it challenging to capture the complexities of the job. But the collection of coverage we’ve assembled underscores that this facet of the education beat is replete with interesting angles.
In my prior post, we talked about “10 Questions to Ask” when writing about school leadership. This time I’m offering three stories to steal.
When I was covering the education beat in Las Vegas, an annual survey of teachers in the Clark County School District (the nation’s fifth-largest) always yielded plenty of fodder for stories. But what struck me in particular was the No. 1 reason – year in and year out – given by teachers when asked why they had decided to leave a school. It wasn’t overly challenging students, or low pay or a long commute. Rather, it was dissatisfaction with their principals.
Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders: Longitudinal Evidence from Observations of Principals
We find that principals’ time spent broadly on instructional functions does not predict student achievement growth. Aggregating across leadership behaviors, however, masks that some specific instructional investments predict year-to-year gains. In particular, time spent on teacher coaching, evaluation, and developing the school’s educational program predict positive achievement gains. In contrast, time spent on informal classroom walkthroughs negatively predicts student growth, particularly in high schools.
The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy, based in New York City, that aims to improve the educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. The foundation has invested heavily in research and resources aimed at improving the positive effect principals can have on school and student performance. They have also put significant funding toward expanded learning, summer learning, and after-school.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals has been the leading professional organization for elementary and middle school principals since 1921, advocating on behalf of these administrators beginning at the local level all the way up to federal government.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals, founded in 1916, is the leading professional organization for the nation’s middle school and high school principals.
Even the most talented teacher will be less successful under a bad principal. But how do you cover what really matters about principal leadership? This webinar offers five “story ideas to steal” and spark your own ideas for compelling coverage. As a launch pad for the discussion, the webinar will feature clips from the recent documentary “The Principal Story.”
A new report highlighting the growing rate of poverty among suburban residents warns that traditional policies aimed at combating indigence aren’t designed to address the problem adequately.
EWA’s 66th National Seminar was recently held at Stanford University, and we asked some of the education reporters attending to contribute blog posts from the sessions, including one examining President Obama’s universal preschool proposal.
This research brief describes the “five pivotal practices that shape instructional leadership” based on an examination of 10 years of research and advocacy work from the Wallace Foundation, an influential philanthropy that works to improve the education for disadvantaged youth.
This research brief examines the results of the Wallace Foundation’s efforts to build Cohesive Leadership Systems — i.e., better cooperation among school leaders at the school, district, and state levels. The researchers conducted more than 400 interviews in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oregon, and Rhode Island; and surveyed more than 600 principals. The researchers find that interagency cooperation can be effective.
Published June 2002