Home Part of States Newsroom
Commentary
Public education needs educational leaders not politicians

Share

Public education needs educational leaders not politicians

Feb 27, 2024 | 9:02 am ET
By Greg Wieman
Share
Public education needs educational leaders not politicians
Description
The bad news is that there is a growing shortage of quality educators. Hiring and supporting excellent educational leaders is becoming increasingly more difficult. (Getty Images)

We are now entering “superintendent season.” Where political savvy often takes precedence over effective educational leadership in getting and keeping a district superintendent position. The two largest public school districts in Nevada are seeking superintendents because of recent resignations.

Superintendent search firms are advisable as most board members lack the ability to discern quality educational leadership. If there is sincere interest in serving the best interest of students, consultants will be hired that have consistently delivered quality leaders in other districts.

Internal promotions within a failing district cover and perpetuate past incompetence. Self-directed searches may reek of corruption.

In large public school districts across the country, particularly those serving high-poverty student populations, candidates frequently make empty promises to raise standardized test scores. Despite repeated career failures in achieving this goal, if hired, they often shift the responsibility of fulfilling this promise to principals and teachers.

Spoiler alert: Historically, no school or district has appreciably improved standardized test scores without a substantial shift in the demographic composition of the student population. Reversing the flow of students away from a school or district is a proven way to raise test score averages.

Instructional coaching, curriculum revisions, alignments to state standards, adjusting phonics content in reading programs, extended school days, tutoring programs, improved technology, and more have consistently fallen short in closing test score gaps.

School boards frequently base decisions on previously determined traits that do not necessarily reflect competent educational leadership. While it is critical to consider a diverse pool of candidates, the focus should be on those with proven and authentic accomplishments.

Have they established safe, cordial, productive learning environments? Do they form positive, collegial relationships with colleagues? Do they motivate faculty and staff to consistently serve the best interest of students? Do they like kids and do kids like them?

These are not questions for the interview. These questions should be answered long before an interview is offered. That is why reference checks should be done prior to formal interviews. It saves hiring committees many fruitless discussions.

The best indicator of future performance is past performance. Trusting the application package and a glib tongue as evidence of stellar achievements is naïve. Great interviews should enhance the prospect of being hired; not be the major deciding factor.

Heart-warming stories of overcoming difficult circumstances at an interview are not evidence of effective educational leadership. Nor are online university graduate degrees.

School board members, often motivated by personal and political agendas may seek district superintendents that can be more easily controlled, particularly in small-town and rural districts. Politically palatable decisions may compromise the best interest of students.

Educational decisions should be guided by reliable research and best practice. The intrinsic ability to make the people around you better people is a crucial aspect of leadership. Effective leaders have the confidence to surround themselves with others of high ability.

Is there evidence of real improvement of student outcomes? Increased student attendance, higher graduation rates, reduction of discipline and behavioral referrals, reversal of migration to other schools, improved personnel recruitment and retention are measures that should guide superintendent selection.

Are students, parents, teachers and colleagues sincerely disappointed in losing this person from their school district? You have to dig for this answer. 

The bad news is that there is a growing shortage of quality educators. Hiring and supporting excellent educational leaders is becoming increasingly more difficult.

In Clark County, the continued exodus of students from the school district has influenced test scores in a negative manner. Better test-takers are more likely to exercise school choice options or homeschool.

Board members should be seeking superintendent candidates that have the proven ability to create and maintain safe, cordial, productive learning environments. The main reason parents move their children is school culture. Better school environments lead to better test scores.