What's the Advantage of a School Without a Principal?

Posted by Nikhil Swaminathan

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The Christian Science Monitor
ran a piece this week
documenting the rise of schools that have no principals and are instead run by their teachers. According to the article, the idea is one of many first rolled out in New York City schools in the 1970s and now gaining new life in the current environment of experimentation and reform—a list that includes extended school days and collaborative teaching.

What's the advantage of the principal-less school?

Well, the recent teacher ratings compiled and released by The L.A. Times might actually shed some insight into that question. Jason Felch, one of the reporters responsible for the newspaper's coverage of teach effectiveness, noted that some principals in L.A. schools were unable to accurately identify who their most effective teachers were, at least according to standardized testing data.

So, with reformers crying for more teacher accountability, if principals aren't uniformly able to assess the strengths and weaknesses in their staffs, why not eliminate them. That way, teachers are directly responsible for their performance without an extra layer of bureaucracy. At least, that's the idea, as I understand it.

According to the Christian Science Monitor piece:

While each teacher-led school is unique, the shared decisionmaking is what defines them. The teachers' participation tends to create a culture quite different from that in a traditional principal-led school: Teachers can't hide behind the classroom door or complain about policies, because they have to come up with solutions.

So, what do you think? Does this seem like a better model for the school of the future? Will teachers be more invested because they are ultimately responsible—and there's no principal to fire for poor performance? Or does adding administrative duties to teachers' plates risk them being overburdened and giving up time teaching and preparing lessons?

Photo via Barbara Colombo for The Christian Science Monitor.