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Everything Old Is New Again: The “New” Principal Selection Process

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

Is it true that a young Tweed MBA was perusing yellowed files in the bowels of Ed Central and came across a folder entitled, “Board of Examiners” … and shouted, “What a great idea … testing for competence before you hire someone!”

The announcement that Tweed would prescreen principal applicants is sad.

A little history: A major reform movement of the late 19th century was civil service reform – taking jobs out of the hands of elected officials and establishing a system based upon competitive examinations and rank order exam generated Civil Service lists (see Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars). Applicants had to pass a rigorous written examination, an interview and a teaching test.

In the early seventies the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and a number of other civil rights organizations challenged the Principal’s Examination citing a Supreme Court decision (Griggs v. Duke Power Company) averring that if examinations had “disparate impact an ethnic minority” the employer must show that the examination or requirement was “reasonably related” to the job.

The Board of Education settled the suit and abolished supervisory examinations and replaced them with a requirement of a brief interview. Selections were made by school level committees, at least five candidates were recommended to the Superintendent and the final selection was made by the elected school boards. In the mid-nineties the law was changed and all personnel decisions were removed from the school boards and placed with the Superintendent, who was now selected by the Chancellor.

Parents and teachers working together had a significant voice in a process: to select the leader of their school.

Under Mayoral control principals are assigned by Tweed, either out of the Leadership Academy, New Leaders for New Schools, or, in some instances, School Support Organizations. The decisions are rubber stamped by the Tweed Talent Office and the Superintendent under a Chancellor’s Regulation.

The Leadership Academy has been an unpublicized disaster – extremely costly with many graduates leading “failing” schools, either measured by the State Ed Dept or School Progress Reports. Motivation without the requisite skills is a formula for failure.

We know the qualities of an excellent school leader:

  • an exemplary classroom teacher
  • a body of knowledge: how schools function and how youngsters learn
  • leadership and team building skills
  • ability to read, write and speak well as a role model to staff and students
  • a person who exemplifies academic and intellectual growth

The “value-added” teacher evaluation movement is a charade without effective school leadership, which means hiring the best teaching candidates, working with the teachers in a collaborative manner, making the “tough” decisions, when necessary – that is the “formula” for creating good schools.

The “idea of the moment” public relations mill at Tweed just spins those “new ideas.”

Years ago the high school principal and/or the superintendent was usually the former football coach. Originally I sneered … I came to understand the complexity of coaching and leadership development.

Do you think Bill Belichick would make a better chancellor than Joel Klein?



  • 1 Schoolgal
    · Jan 31, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Wow! Hell must have frozen over because this is one great post.

    Those of us who remember know that this is nothing new.

  • 2 xkaydet65
    · Feb 1, 2008 at 8:03 am

    One of the obstacles an aspiring principal had to overcome was being sent to an unfamiliar school and asked to control a student audience and run an assembly program.A principal’s “presence” not simply the aythority conferred by title was a prerequisite to holding the office.

    BTW Belichik would be a superior Chancellor.

  • 3 NYC Educator
    · Feb 1, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Well, this is perhaps only tangentially related, but I very much liked Randi Weingarten’s comment today on mayoral control and budget cuts:


    Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called the cuts “draconian” and blamed them on Mr. Bloomberg’s control of the schools. “This is where we miss having an independent chancellor, not somebody who is appointed by the mayor,” she said. “We need people who are the management of the school system to say you can’t reflexively cut schools.”

    Mayoral control has been an unmitigated disaster for city teachers and kids. Rampant and unconscionable overcrowding, the highest class sizes in the state, and the substandard, outdated facilities benefit nothing but the bottom line.

    I hope the UFT follows Ms. Weingarten’s lead and takes a strong principled stand against renewal of mayoral control. Most good government is built on checks and balances, and NYC sorely needs them too.