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Principals Matter, And Teacher Tenure Lawsuits Are A Sideshow That Won’t Fix Our Schools.

As we go back to school this fall, parents will naturally be fretting about teachers—mainly, did their kids get the best ones? But what if, in the interest of educational improvement, we paused to examine the role of one person who rarely gets talked about, but who just might be the most important figure in school reform: the principal? The role of the principal has, traditionally, been overlooked.

As I learned researching my new book on the history of American teaching, we have always looked to teachers—not to teachers’ bosses—as a salve for the wounds of inequality. Horace Mann, the father of the 19th-century common schools movement, believed a better cadre of teachers would enable children “now stamped with inferiority” to rise to “the common level.” Progressive Era muckraker Jacob Riis declared that teachers were “our chief defense against the tenement and the flood of ignorance with which it would swamp us.”