United in Leading the Way to Better Schools

Diann Woodard, AFSA President

As the school leaders responsible for ensuring the education of all our nation’s children, principals and administrators regularly find ourselves contending with ever-changing experiments imposed on us by local, state and federal policymakers, often without regard for the training necessary to implement these programs.

There’s one thing, however, that doesn’t change. These new programs are seldom, if ever, developed with input from principals about their viability, or are funds appropriated to provide school leaders with the training we need to implement these programs or achieve new standards.

Indeed we have watched the attacks on teachers over the last several years fully aware that we — the second-most important contributors to a school’s success — will soon be the target of would-be reformers misguided attacks.

The job of a school leader isn’t getting any easier. In fact, it’s becoming more complex with every decision made to increase the number and scope of teacher evaluations and accountability, or with directives to add yet another test or program to a school’s curriculum. The school leader is expected to determine how best to incorporate these decisions into the school’s already demanding program.

Whether school leaders are members of my union, the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) or the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), we are usually the last to know or be trained on what is coming. In short, significant changes are frequently imposed upon us with little concern or training as to how we can meet these new challenges.

With new evaluation systems, school improvement models and accountability requirements confronting us, principals now more than ever need professional development opportunities to help us keep pace and create a learning environment in which children can thrive.

Rather than continuing to work separately, our three organizations, representing 95,000 school leaders across the country, have instead banded together in an unprecedented partnership, and earlier this week called on Congress to invest in training us, the people who make our nation’s schools run effectively.

With one voice, we are urging Congress to direct at least 10 percent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) toward professional development for principals, a first step toward strengthening our capacity to participate in national policy discussions.

For years, we have worked separately to influence the stature of principals throughout the nation. As associations, NASSP and NAESP have worked hard in providing research-based resources and professional development activities to help school leaders navigate through the reforms, while the union, AFSA, has worked hard to protect the rights of school leaders when reforms are being implemented.

Our proposal for dedicating 10 percent of ESEA funding honors the intent and focus of the law, which requires states to provide assistance to local educational agencies for the development and implementation of professional development programs for principals that will enable them to be effective school leaders and prepare all students to meet challenging student academic achievement standards.

Right now the language in Title II isn’t specific enough to ensure adequate funding levels for principal professional development. Although principals are expected to evaluate teacher effectiveness under new requirements, there is little funding provided to make sure principals can implement the new evaluations successfully. Given the enormous impact principals have in their schools, it is imperative that school leaders receive increased support and high quality professional development.

And although funding for professional development is currently possible under Title II of ESEA, the Department of Education recently found that districts only use an average of four percent of these dollars for principal development, falling far short of what principals need to meet the increased demands placed on us as the operational and instructional leaders of the nation’s schools.

Our unity stands as striking evidence, based on first-hand experience, that the programmatic demands being made on students and teachers for improved performance can only be achieved by first providing the professional development funding for those of us who must oversee these reforms.

All three of our organizations have been meeting with legislators throughout the month to relay our message about the urgent need of increased professional development for school leaders. AFSA vice presidents will also be making a Hill visit during their regular executive board meeting to continue to deliver the message.

We are now, for the first time, one voice ringing loud and clear on Capitol Hill.

Our house is no longer divided, nor will our voice be ignored any longer, if Congress hopes to achieve a higher standard of learning for all our nation’s children.