Beth Milne is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

As we seek to guarantee accountability and gauge performance, school reformers are faced with a daunting question: How do we balance our expectations of teachers with the challenges they often face in the classroom? This question has spurred national debate about how to balance these expectations and how to evaluate teachers fairly. Yet this balance does not fall solely on the educator; it is vital to also include administrator accountability in these discussions.

The foundation of evaluations should be fairness. Who is responsible for the evaluations? An administrator? An outside entity? And how do you compare teachers who teach tested subjects versus those who do not? This is not a problem we can solve today, but it does beg the question of why there is not more conversation around quality administrator evaluations.

We know that quality teachers have a great impact on student learning. However, what measures are being made to ensure the quality of our schools’ administrators?  According to one study published in Education Next, “highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount.” We rightly focus on teachers, but principals influence a much larger population every year. Why isn’t there more attention paid to holding administrators accountable?

After spending years in different educational systems with varying degrees of accountability, we have seen that effective school leaders are those who:

  • foster teacher collaboration
  • support coordinated professional learning towards a common goal
  • create a culture of teacher and student accountability
  • understand and support data driven instruction
  • develop relationships

Administrators are responsible for hiring and attracting quality educators and play a large role in establishing the culture in their buildings and districts. Their influence cannot be underestimated. As we debate the right teacher evaluation tool, we need to focus on quality administrator evaluation models that focus on these traits as well.

There also needs to be accountability in other areas of education, such as charter school operators and authorizers. In the 2015 session, the Indiana legislature passed HEA 1636, which greatly strengthens the state’s charter accountability for both schools and authorizers. The legislation includes barriers to entry and evaluation timeframes for authorizers, and also prevents charter authorizer “shopping” to help prevent bad operators from continually opening poor schools in the state. These changes will likely lead to Indiana having the strongest charter school accountability law in the nation when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks the statute against its model law.

An interesting example of a good accountability system in place for schools is the portfolio of charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation (OEI). They have implemented extensive frameworks to monitor their schools financially, academically and in governance. Area-specific analysts manage the schools and track their progress as a partner throughout the school year. This allows the authorizer to have a clear understanding of the status of the school and enables administrators and operators to change their behaviors accordingly throughout the year rather than be caught by surprise. Each school’s ratings on the framework are then posted to the OEI website for full transparency. Other authorizers and districts in the state have looked at adopting similar frameworks to standardize accountability moving forward and offer more transparency into their operations.

Accountability is an important tool in our quest to improve education in the United States. We cannot limit our reform efforts to any one player in the system. A quality administrator tool and a clearly articulated framework for accountability in operation are vital in addition to a quality teacher evaluation. Currently, we hold administrators and operators responsible only when a school is designated as failing. As we move toward a system where all teachers are held accountable, we should include the school leaders, authorizers and operators in this process as well.

Rachel Hathaway, Ashley Gibson, and Donna Rummel are alumni of 50CAN’s Education Policy 101 course. Collectively, they bring voices from nonprofits that focus on teacher empowerment, leadership development, state-based policy advocacy. They are all based in the Midwest U.S. 


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