How Do Principals Really
Instead of micromanaging teachers, principals should lead
efforts to collectively monitor student achievement through
professional learning communities.
Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos
Principals are in a paradoxical position. No Child Left Behind admonished educators to use “sci- entific, research-based strategies” to ensure that all students learn. Likewise, Race to the Top requires educators to use “research-based” school
improvement models. Unfortunately, the core strategies of
both of these reform initiatives largely ignore this call for
practices grounded in research. Principals are being asked to
improve student learning by implementing mandated reforms
that have consistently proven ineffective in raising student
The current emphasis on using more intensive supervision
and evaluation of teachers to improve school performance
illustrates this irony. According to Race to the Top guidelines,
this more rigorous supervision process should influence
a teacher’s professional development, compensation, promotion, retention, tenure, and certification. Ultimately, the
evaluations should reward highly effective educators with
merit pay and remove those deemed ineffective.
At first glance, this approach to improving schools seems to
make sense. After all, research does say that teacher quality
is one of the most significant factors in student learning.
Further, there’s almost universal agreement that the current
system of teacher evaluation in the United States is ineffective.
Three of four teachers report that their evaluation process
has virtually no impact on their classroom practice (Duffett,
Farkas, Rotherham, & Silva, 2008). Like the children of Lake
Wobegon, almost all teachers are deemed to be above average,
if not superior. Tenured teachers are almost never found to be
unsatisfactory. As a comprehensive study (Weisberg, Sexton,
Mulhern, & Keeling, 2009) of the current system concluded,
“Teacher evaluation does not recognize good teaching, leaves
poor teaching unaddressed, and does not inform decision-making in any meaningful way” (p. 1).
So why not make tougher evaluation of teachers a cornerstone of school improvement? Why not require principals to
spend more time in classrooms supervising and evaluating
teachers into better performance?
The premise that more frequent and intensive evaluation
of teachers by their principals will lead to higher levels of
student learning is only valid if two conditions exist. The first
is that educators know how to improve student learning but
have not been sufficiently motivated to do so. The second is
that principals have the time and expertise to improve each