Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too

Will Miller:

POLITICIANS and education reformers are fixated on the performance of teachers, but they often overlook another key ingredient for improving student achievement: principals. The problem is that great principals often don’t end up in the schools that need them most — those with poor and minority students. School districts, states and universities need to do much more to get outstanding principals into these schools.

A generation ago, good principals were efficient middle managers. They oversaw budgets, managed complicated bus schedules and delivered discipline. That started changing in the mid-1990s. Today’s principal needs to be much more focused on the quality of teaching in the classroom.

Take Clayborn Knight, principal of Nesbit Elementary School in Tucker, Ga., where more than 90 percent of his 2,100 students live in poverty. Mr. Knight arrives by 6 a.m. to form his game plan for the day and handle administrative matters so he can help teachers improve instruction during the rest of the day. He roams from classroom to classroom to observe teachers, give them informal feedback and present model lessons.