F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
August 13, 2000
Good Principals Make Good Schools



F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

The key to education reform isn't money, but good principals and good teachers.



"Effective principals decide how to spend their money, whom to hire, and what to teach," declares Casey Carter of the Heritage Foundation. "Unless principals are free to establish their own curricula, seek out their own faculties, and teach as they see fit," he asserts, "their teaching will not be its best. Without freedom, a school principal is powerless."

In a new book called No Excuses, published by the Heritage Foundation, Carter "documents the success of twenty-one schools that refuse to make poverty an excuse for academic failure." The schools he profiles are "all led by strong principals who hold their stu- dents and their teachers to the highest standards. Every single one of them believes that children of all races and income levels can meet high academic standards."

In addition to having principals who are free and willing to make necessary decisions, successful schools "use measurable goals to establish a culture of achievement," says Carter. "Whether the goal is calculus by 12th grade, a fluently bilingual school, proficient musical performance for all, literacy at the earliest age, 100-percent attendance, or 100 percent working above grade level, great schools set hard and fast goals that the whole school must strive to obtain."

They also rely on master teachers. "Improving the quality of instruction is the only way to improve overall student achievement," Carter argues. "Teacher quality is the single most accurate indicator of a student's performance in school. Master teachers are the key to improved teacher quality."

Testing is another key ingredient. "High expectations without a means of measurement are hollow," Carter explains. "Testing is the diagnostic tool that best enforces a school's goals. Regular testing at all levels and in all areas ensures that teaching and learning of the prescribed curriculum are taking place in every classroom."

Exemplary principals reject the "command-andcontrol approach to discipline" in favor of self-discipline. "When a school clearly teaches by example that self-control, self-reliance, and self-esteem anchored in achievement are the means to success, that school's own success inspires confidence, order, and discipline in its students," Carter contends. "Effective principals hope to create lasting opportunities with lifelong rewards for their students. Without apology, they allow the rigorous demands of achievement to show the way."

Effective principals "work actively with parents to make the home a center of learning," Carter notes. They "teach parents to read to their children, check their homework, and ask after their assignments. In the end, however, each student, not a child's parents, is held accountable for his or her own success."

For a businessman, time is money; for a principal, time is knowledge. "School is hard work, and great principals demand that their students work hard," says Carter. "Extended days, extended years, after-school programs, weekend programs, and summer school are all features of outstanding schools. None wastes time. Effective principals eliminate social promotion," he reports. "Students must fulfill very specific course requirements in order to advance either in class or on to the next grade level. No student is advanced without a clear demonstration of mastery."


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