What school leaders do and don't want

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The latest installment in Public Agenda's "Reality Check" series takes the ed reform temperature of "The Insiders"--in other words, principals and superintendents.

Like most teachers, parents, and members of the public, administrators mostly think that public schools are doing a good job: more than three-quarters of them said that low academic standards were not a serious problem. Likewise, only 27 percent thought that too many kids pass through the system without learning enough (by way of contrast, 62 percent of teachers recently polled believed that to be a major problem).

Regardless of the urgency of school reform, administrators revealed some interesting opinions about how to go about improving schools:

* Some of the ed reform crowd's favorite silver bullets--like performance pay and alternative certification--were not at all high on administrators' list of potential solutions. Only about a fifth of those surveyed thought that performance pay would be very effective at improving teaching, and only four percent thought that relying more on alternative certification would be a big help.

* Far more important to them was the ability to fire bad teachers, even those with tenure: roughly three-quarters cited this as a major issue.

* Nearly two-thirds of principals thought it was essential to involve teachers in "developing policies and priorities" for improving schools. In a telling contrast, less than half of superintendents thought so--and this effort was actually at the very bottom of their list of the best ways to improve schools.