Honing in on the weakest link: school principals

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Part of the solution for lowering high teacher turnover rates may actually be to lower the principal turnover rate. A story in the Austin American Statesman paints a grim picture of that district's ability to hold on to its principals, with one in four principalships turning over each school year. This places Austin at the top end of a turnover rate in urban districts which tends to fall between 18 to 25 percent.

What these principals leave in their wake is a lot of unfinished business and demoralized teachers. Comments researcher Ed Fuller from the University of Texas: "Over time, teachers become jaded and simply ignore the reform effort. Teachers believe the principal will leave and all of their efforts will be wasted."

Turnover rates are not nearly as bad in New York City--hovering at 10 percent--but Chancellor Klein is determined to improve the quality of persons who get to fill those vacancies. Having handed his principals a great deal more authority to run their schools, he's feeling justified putting aspiring principals through their paces, instead of it being an automatic promotion owed to any assistant principal.

New York will now have a centralized pool of candidates who have survived an elaborate new screening process--one that sounds a lot like what Teach For America corps members have to go through to become a new teacher. They will also be subjected to a new evaluation routine, with Klein having tired of the binary categories of satisfactory versus unsatisfactory. Now principals will be rated twice a year on a scale of zero to four.