Under One Umbrella

By Diann Woodard, AFSA President

Our union’s third regional leadership conference of the year, held in San Francisco, proved highly successful for a number of reasons, not least of all that we were joined by administrator organizations from Los Angeles and Milwaukee that are not currently AFSA Locals.

We were grateful for their joining us to grow professionally side by side with our membership from the training programs and presentations that highlighted the conference.

The conference featured a wide range of workshops, from hands-on training in negotiating and enforcing a contract to presentations on cyberbullying, as well as problem solving and leadership through teamwork.

In the course of the conference all those who participated gained a growing awareness that, no matter what school district we work in and no matter whether participants were members or not, we are all walking through a hailstorm of criticism these days under one umbrella.

We all share a deep belief in helping every child reach his or her full potential and we all face similar challenges in achieving that goal.

We all face adversaries who all too often seek profit from education at the expense of the children most in need of our leadership.

Despite these stormy circumstances, AFSA is emerging as a stronger advocate for school leaders having a voice in decisions about the need for school improvement.

Our new School Leaders United program engages our members, as well as allies who may choose to join our efforts, in making our voices heard when Congress is faced with critical decisions affecting our profession and the children.

And while we are rightfully outraged for being treated unfairly, as we have been increasingly in recent years, we take comfort in the fact that this adversity has gathered us under one umbrella, building a growing capacity to challenge the injustices being showered upon us.

One of those injustices is the indifference to the role of school leaders in turnarounds and the trend among policy makers to judge principal performance on unfounded standards and ill-informed evaluations.

AFSA is taking action to challenge these injustices by investing in worldclass research on the role of school leaders. We have engaged the internationally renowned American Institutes of Research (AIR) to review the available academic studies on the subject.

AIR offered conferees in San Francisco a presentation on its initial findings, which are strikingly at odds with current views being voiced by policy makers who have ignored the significant role of principals and administrators and have judged our performance without credible standards for evaluating the magnitude of our roles as school leaders.

While the so-called business model reformers are urging that principals be fired for “failing” to turn around a school in one year, AIR’s preliminary findings reveal it takes three to five years for a principal’s strategies to yield demonstrable change in student achievement.

The AIR study also reveals that principal quality has an impact well beyond the 25 percent of the total school-level student achievement that education scholars have documented. The multiple managerial roles school leaders perform radiate beyond measurable student achievement and have a clear impact on overall school performance, such as teacher quality, that cannot be measured with data alone.

While this is hardly news to those of us in the field, the significance of the AIR research being commissioned by AFSA is that it will provide our members with credible evidence for challenging supervisors and school boards that judge our work unfairly. These tools will prove invaluable in negotiations where they exist, but will prove equally valuable in challenging districts where attempts are made in the absence of a contract to evaluate school leaders’ performance unjustly on the basis of misinformed “standards” that often are designed for teachers and randomly applied to administrators.

We look forward to final publication of the AIR report and will be sharing its findings with our members to equip each of you with the tools necessary for defending yourselves against unjust evaluations, and ultimately for establishing standards for evaluations that reflect the full scope and significance of the vital work that we do.

And we will be investing in further research that seeks to define appropriate measures of school leaders’ performance that can be used in challenging the illfounded presumptions of policy makers at the state and federal level.

AFSA is making these investments in research to empower our members with the resources necessary for raising the voices of school leaders in the debate over school reform.