While teacher quality often is the focus of improving schools, the role of the principal cannot be overlooked, especially as a motivator for teachers.
“You cannot have a good school unless you have a good principal,” said Paul Peterson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor at Harvard, on May 25 at the American Enterprise Institute.
The current state of principal training is a “relic of the past” because they do not drive change, said Jon Schnur, co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools.
“We are preparing new principals for an old principalship,” he said.
Principal training programs, however, do not prepare principals for their on-the-job experiences. A new report issued by AEI examines what gets taught in principal preparation programs at 56 of the 496 graduate education administration programs.
The report’s authors, Rick Hess [pictured] and Andrew Kelly, reviewed the content of syllabi and the assigned texts. The most prevalent focus of programs was technical knowledge necessary for school administration, about a quarter of a program’s focus. The study found that charges of liberal bias in education programs are “significantly overblown,” according to Hess. Ideological bias, however, does exist.
Education programs focus on “norms and values”—ideological content—in about one-tenth of their curriculum. Left-leaning bias exists in this content, said Hess, the director of education policy at AEI. At every type of school—”elite,” “large” and “typical”—Hess and Kelly studied, a left-leaning ideology prevailed. At elite schools, left-leaning bias prevailed in 70 percent of course content; the rest of the content was deemed neutral. At large schools 66 percent of course content had a left-leaning ideology, and at typical education programs 54 percent of course content had a left-leaning ideology.
In order to determine left or right ideology, the report developed criteria that would identify ideology. A left-leaning ideology would advocate social justice and multiculturalism and be critical of school choice and testing, for instance. A right-leaning ideology would criticize social justice and multiculturalism and support school choice and testing. Hess pointed out a course topic, “Race and ethnicity: white privilege, critical race theory,” that he found during the study as a sample of a left-leaning ideology in the curriculum.
Although ideological bias is present in education administration programs, Hess said that the more pressing concern is the failure of the programs to train principals to “use accountability and take responsibility for teacher quality.”
“There is little evidence of ideological bias,” he said. “The larger concern is the limited scope of preparation.”
Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, cited ideology as a hindrance to progress and productivity.
“This is not about politics,” she said. “This is about practice.”
“I don’t care what [teachers and principals] believe. I care what they do.”
Larry Scholer is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.