"Operating in the Dark"

There are three public elementary schools (Paete Central, Quinale, and Ibaba) in the town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines. When I first met the three principals, I found that each one was affectionately called "apple" by teachers as well as local government officials. I thought that was kinda cute. At that time, I was visiting the schools to see how the computer classrooms were operating. The photo below shows how much the schools prepared for my visit. I was even treated to a folk dance show.

Photo taken during my visit to Paete Central Elementary School in 2004

While working with these schools, I got introduced to how the schools operate, relationships between administrators, as well as the role the local government plays in public school education. Worth noting is the significant role of the principal in the day-to-day operation of each school. The office of the district supervisor is inside the campus of Paete Central Elementary School. I had the privilege of seating as an observer in several local school board meetings. The experience on the ground taught me a lot more than just reading, for example, the following passages from Philippine Republic Act 9155 ("Governance of Basic Education Act of 2001", Section 7E):

School Level 
There shall be a school head for all public elementary schools and public high schools or a cluster thereof. The establishment of integrated schools from existing public elementary and public high schools shall be encouraged. 
The school head, who may be assisted by an assistant school head, shall be both an instructional leader and administrative manager. The school head shall form a them with the school teachers/learning facilitators for delivery of quality educational programs, projects and services. A core of nonteaching staff shall handle the school's administrative, fiscal and auxiliary services. 
Consistent with the national educational policies, plans and standards, the school heads shall have authority, accountability and responsibility for the following: 
(1) Setting the mission, vision, goals and objectives of the school;
(2) Creating an environment within the school that is conducive to teaching and learning;
(3) Implementing the school curriculum and being accountable for higher learning outcomes;
(4) Developing the school education program and school improvement plan;
(5) Offering educational programs, projects and services which provide equitable opportunities for all learners in the community;
(6) Introducing new and innovative modes of instruction to achieve higher learning outcomes;
(7) Administering and managing all personnel, physical and fiscal resources of the school;
(8) Recommending the staffing complement of the school based on its needs;
(9) Encouraging staff development;
(10) Establishing school and community networks and encouraging the active participation of teachers organizations, nonacademic personnel of public schools, and parents-teachers-community associations;
(11) Accepting donations, gifts, bequests and grants for the purpose of upgrading teachers' learning facilitators' competencies, improving ad expanding school facilities and providing instructional materials and equipment. Such donations or grants must be reported to the appropriate district supervisors and division superintendents; and
(12) Performing such other functions as may be assigned by proper authorities.
Hiring, placing and evaluation of both teaching and nonteaching personnel in public schools, including principals in the Philippines rest on the division level of the Department of Education. A division is either a province or a city. Nevertheless, given the responsibilities listed above, a school principal clearly holds a significant share in the school's impact on student learning. The hospitality I received from the school principals in Paete, Laguna simply showed how well the principals were attending to responsibility number eleven. But as I spent additional time in the schools, I became more aware of some of the other responsibilities and activities a principal does. It is a very tough and demanding job. This can not be overstated.

I am not at all familiar with the procedure or process by which a principal is assigned in the Philippines although through the years I have seen personnel changes inside the elementary schools of Paete, and several of these changes included the principal. The fact that a principal is key to school improvement, teacher development, and student learning requires that the right people are assigned to this position and that these people receive all the support and training that they need. A principal affects both teacher quality and school climate, two factors that greatly influence student learning in schools. For a successful turn around of schools, there is no doubt that schools need the right principal. It is therefore important to examine how future principals are trained and how current principals are supported and evaluated. This is certainly one area in which research is required. One may be surprised with the findings of such study.

There is one such recent study in the United States. Released in February 2013 by the George W. Bush Institute, the report "Operating in the Dark: What Outdated State Policies and Data Gaps Mean for Effective School Leadership" is a serious eye-opener for public schools in the US. Their key findings are as follows (In this report, the District of Columbia is counted as a state so the total number is 51):
  • Principal Effectiveness Standards: (which often are used to undergird state policies impacting principal preparation, licensure, and tenure decisions and policies) Only 27 states report including in their standards five key elements that current research shows are important to principal effectiveness today: recruiting and selecting teachers, developing and supporting teachers, assessing and rewarding teachers, implementing data-driven instruction, and developing a positive school culture. 
  • Principal Preparation: (States have tremendous authority when it comes to principal preparation. They are responsible for overseeing and authorizing preparation programs that prospective school leaders must complete to become principals. States define the approval process and specify the elements and programmatic components that need to be included for principal preparation programs to earn state approval.) 19 states were unable to report how many people graduate from state-approved principal preparation programs in their states on an annual basis. Only 5 states report requiring principal preparation programs to include all key programmatic components that research shows are critical for effective programs, program purpose, competency framework, recruitment, candidate selection, coursework, clinical leadership experience, and program completion requirements. More than half (28) of the states report that neither the state nor principal preparation programs are required to collect any outcome data on principal preparation program graduates to know if they secure jobs, retain them, show impact on student achievement, or earn effective ratings on principal evaluations. Only 6 states report collecting or requiring principal preparation programs to collect outcome data in all four areas: job placement, retention, performance on the job via student achievement impact, and performance on the job via evaluation.
  • Principal Licensure: (States grant licenses to aspiring principals to enable them to be hired for a school leadership position.) 7 states could not report how many principal licenses are granted on an annual basis. Of the 44 states that did have data, they reported granting licenses to a total of 29,868 principals in 2010-11 but this is obviously an incomplete picture. Most states are relying on input measures only—such as master’s degrees, teaching experience, completing an approved principal preparation program, and passing a test—when granting initial licensure. Only 6 states report requiring principals to prove that they are effective school leaders to renew their licenses. Evidence includes demonstrating an impact on student achievement; recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers; and/or earning effective evaluation ratings.
  • Principal Tenure: (States determine if there will be a state tenure system for leaders) In the 7 states where tenure is granted at the state level, leaders only need to serve for 2.5 years on average before being granted life tenure.

From these findings, one can easily guess what the recommendations are. The above findings explain why the report is entitled, "Operating in the Dark".