AFSA Letter To The 113th Congress

The American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), AFL-CIO, is a union representing school leaders on the front lines of running America’s public schools and ensuring quality education for all. AFSA is dedicated to providing its members with opportunities for professional development, support and a voice in deciding our nation’s education policy.

Although public recognition for AFSA continues to grow, legislation on education policy still relies heavily on the input of teachers and superintendents while often ignoring the experience and concerns of those who lead our nation’s schools—the principals.

As the 113th Congress begins its work, we urge you to consider these recommendations and consider AFSA an education resource.

Principal Preparation and Training is Crucial

A school leader training program is needed to standardize the level of knowledge, experience and overall preparation of incoming principals, because professional development for principals is crucial for improving school performance.

A recent report published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), “Effective Principals, Effective Schools: A Synthesis of Research Evidence,” found that principal quality ranks second only to teacher quality as the most important school-level factor influencing student achievement. The report made clear that principals account for fully 25 percent of the total school-level impact on student achievement.

The report also showed that a principal’s strategies take three to five years to yield demonstrable change in student achievement, making it clear that a school cannot be turned around overnight, as is commonly demanded by business-model advocates of reform and School Improvement Grants (SIG). Rather than providing school leaders with necessary professional development opportunities, the four models of “improvement” (Turnaround, Transformation, Restart, Closure) require the removal of a school’s principal and up to 50 percent of the school’s staff.

Additionally, under the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools that do not meet the measured school performance under Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are subject to a series of escalating sanctions.

Principals ultimately are held accountable under these measurements, yet they are not provided with the resources, capacity, training and professional development needed to succeed with the new responsibilities added under NCLB.

Ensuring that principals are prepared sufficiently for the responsibility of leading a school and given enough time to fully implement their strategies is a crucial step toward increasing school and student success rates, and deserves significant legislative consideration.

Achieving School Safety

A national task force on school safety is needed to establish standards ensuring best practices in school safety are implemented consistently and that school leaders have the training and federal resources they need to ensure schools are equipped to provide state- of-the-art security for staff and students.

School leaders ultimately are responsible for creating a safe and secure learning environment. While some districts have policies and strategies in place that address crisis situations, immediate policy must be developed to ensure all schools are prepared for an emergency.

While the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary, where AFSA tragically lost one of our members, Principal Dawn Hochsprung, has increased discussion about such important issues as gun control and mental health policy, schools need solutions now to prepare for potential emergencies—and resources to implement them. The president’s creation of a commission addressing gun control and mental health is a step forward, but school safety must be addressed separately and immediately.

Reauthorizing NCLB and Improving Principal Evaluations

While many states were granted relief from No Child Left Behind and its requirements for student proficiency by 2014, this relief comes in exchange for adopting policies outlined by the Department of Education (DOE), such as adopting college- and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability and support; and evaluating and supporting principal and teacher effectiveness.

A new evaluation system based largely on test scores to solve issues created by NCLB is not a viable solution. Moving from a test-based system that unfairly evaluates schools to one that unfairly evaluates individual educators is counterproductive and not in the best interests of schools and the students they serve.

Without reauthorization, the standards of the current accountability system under both the current NCLB and its waiver requirements are left unclear. To solve the issues created by the waivers, the reauthorization of NCLB must fairly and accurately assess the performance of educators. 

Meaningful input from principals and organizations representing principals, including AFSA, is critical in the design, development and implementation of educator evaluation systems. The evaluation process also must include constant and clear feedback, with continuous opportunities for growth and improvement. Too often, evaluation systems are punitive in nature and ineffective toward improving student achievement.

We recommend the following amendments to school, teacher and principal evaluations:

• Use multiple, high-quality assessments and indicators when measuring student achievement to ensure all student needs are met and that educators are evaluated accurately on their performance.

• Determine the percentage that student achievement factors into evaluations at the local level to ensure student achievement does not act as the sole factor in evaluating educators.

• Include leadership rubrics with clearly defined goals and objectives throughout the evaluation process.

Investing in Education Funding and Providing Adequate Support for Early Education

Investing in ways to provide all children with equal opportunities for a high-quality education should be a federal priority. This includes full Title I funding with a fair formula, and federal support for increasing access to early learning facilities, tools and services in all schools.

Millions of children across the United States, particularly low-income children and children of color, are limited in their educational opportunities because their schools and communities cannot provide the necessary learning conditions. These children are unlikely to receive the nurture and support their peers from more affluent areas enjoy, creating an opportunity gap.

The opportunity gap directly leads to an achievement gap, evident as early as 9 months of age, plaguing many students’ progress throughout elementary school and beyond. Preventing the achievement gap at an early age rather than attempting to provide remedial education later in a student’s life is essential.

Research shows that investing in early childhood education provides significant long-term benefits. High- quality early childhood programs for vulnerable children increase literacy and high school graduation rates while also reducing dropout, crime and teen pregnancy rates.

There is a clear connection between early childhood education and our economy’s strength. If we are to continue to compete globally, we must commit to early childhood education as a moral, ethical and fiscal responsibility.