2007-03-09 / Editorial/Opinion

Giving Principals Total Control Not A Good Idea

To the uninitiated, giving principals total control of their schools under the "Empowerment School" program designed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor might sound like a really good idea. After all, who knows more about the individual public schools and what they need than the principal? Why not then just get rid of the entire bureaucratic morass that keeps schools tied up in paperwork and simply allow those principals to make all the decisions on who to hire and how to spend the money the school is allocated? In a perfect world, we might agree with taking the decision-making power from the region and giving it to a school-level authority. In fact, we have often spoken about doing just that. The problem is, the program assumes that the principals who get the power are rational and have some expertise. We have been dealing with the school system for too long, however, to accept that assumption. There is too much history involved and we have seen too many principals who should have been working at McDonald's flipping burgers rather than running a school. Witness the principal, now retired, who locked his door each day for two hours so that he could have lunch without interruption, even in the case of an emergency such as a fire or medical problem. Then, there was the principal who was so detrimental to his school that the district office split the school in three and gave each assistant principal control of one grade. How about the principal that was arrested several times for driving under the influence? Or, the principal who spent several hours a day on the three computers on his desk and refused to speak to people who came into his office to discuss problems? How about all of the newly-minted principals who come from the Chancellor's Leadership Academy and have no experience at all as either a teacher or assistant principal? Should any of those people have complete, unsupervised control over staff and tens of thousands of dollars in allocated money? We think Not. Until the limited program that is running at present shows one way or the other that empowerment schools work, we should be careful about giving total control to school principals.

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