Seattle Times, This One's For You

Guess what?  According to a new Brookings study, teachers matter. Principals matter.

Superintendents?  Not so much.


In this report, the authors examine the extent to which school district effects on student learning are due to the superintendent in charge, as compared to characteristics of districts that are independent of their leaders. Analyzing student-level data from the states of Florida and North Carolina for the school years 2000-01 to 2009-10, the authors find that:
  1. School district superintendent is largely a short-term job. The typical superintendent has been in the job for three to four years.
  2. Student achievement does not improve with longevity of superintendent service within their districts.
  3. Hiring a new superintendent is not associated with higher student achievement.
  4. Superintendents account for a very small fraction (0.3 percent) of student differences in achievement. This effect, while statistically significant, is orders of magnitude smaller than that associated with any other major component of the education system, including: measured and unmeasured student characteristics; teachers; schools; and districts.
  5. Individual superintendents who have an exceptional impact on student achievement cannot be reliably identified. 

Ultimately, the authors conclude that when district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to be playing a part in an ensemble performance in which the superintendent’s role could be filled successfully by many others.  In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement.  Superintendents are largely indistinguishable.

Charlie and I have said this for YEARS - the problem/dysfunction is in our headquarters.  It's not the superintendent, not the Board - it's the inability of those at headquarters to follow legal Board policy and state/federal regulations.  

I believe there really is a plan to slowly take over the district from both within and out of the district.  Don't believe the hype being spewed out on a near-daily basis by the Seattle Times (probably with help from the Alliance and LEV).  

Having said ALL that - I think the selection of the next superintendent will shape the tone and direction of this district.  

Good news, though.  I think there are some absolutely great people, local people, who would be great.

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the link to this study - it is quite interesting. It seems (based on the pie chart) like the fastest way to improve student achievement would be to influence the two massive student-based indicators - controls (race/ethnicity) and student variance. I bet the only way for the district (rather than communities and families) to do that is to radically increase the number of licensed teachers reaching students (especially in poorly performing areas) and to improve existing teacher morale and performance with better salary compensation and more class prep. time.

Really, a complete restructuring (read: shrinking) in central administration staff is needed. Positions should be eliminated in favor of more certified teaching positions. The superintendent's salary and other high level administers needs to be cut and funneled to teaching positions, the buildings to house them, and teacher salaries. This could occur without a lot of nattering task forces as it uses existing channels for disbursement. Positions designed to serve public relations rather than students basic needs have to be eliminated. The Ombudsman for example. Our personal experience has been that the Ombudsman's chief skill is to compose pithy emails stating that they are powerless to accomplish or influence problem A,B, or C (take your pick). What a shocking waste of salary money. One teacher can do so much more than one Ombudsman. If anyone else has a counter opinion on the value of these characters, I would be interested to hear it.

Furthermore, I have noticed that capacity and staff limitations seem to be the underlying factor for many recalcitrant Principals' draconian policies that limit student opportunities as well. Often Principals' won't admit this because they are invested in making the district look like it is in control. Principals need to be advocates for their schools not apologists for the district.

I hope if the legislature can be compelled to adequately fund education the money will be shuttled to teachers, classrooms, curriculum and not used for ANY of the following:
-assembling and administering task forces
-more central administration staff
-"studies" run by outside companies
-expensive outside searches for superintendents

I don't think any of this will happen because there is (as Charlie Mas says) a true culture of lawlessness in the district central administration. They are really robbing our kids to feather their nests.

Over at the Washington Policy Center they have another piece on school funding.

They are shocked to find that
1) not all schools are funded the same (they are from the state funding but the type of student determines overall funding)
2) SPS spends so much on administration.

But I did note at their webpage that Seattle does seem to have a large administration. I gave a couple of reasons why that is but mostly I shake my head.

The district has rearranged the chairs so it looks like they are smaller than they truly are. And they know it.
seattle citizen said…
More teachers, please. An LA teacher with 164 students is criminal. Assign an essay? Five minutes each (comment, critique) x 164 = 840 minutes = 14 hours. If we want to actually give students the cogent, individualuzed feedback they need we need more teachers and smaller classes. It's a waste of time, and a crime, to pack classroms to capacity.

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