The Principals' Office Blog

Doing Whatever It Takes, Part II

According to the numerous comments on the earlier post about activities that principals undertake in the name of student motivation, principals can get pretty creative when it comes to inspiring students to put forth their best efforts. But none of the comments included giving out cold, hard cash, as is the proposal for a special program in New York City schools. Participants of the program could earn up to $500 for doing well on standardized tests and showing up for class, The New York Times reports. The privately funded incentive program, which would start this fall, would also include cash payments for parents who provide stable environments for their school-aged children by, for example, keeping a full-time job and having health insurance. Opponents of the plan argue that students must develop an appreciation for learning for learning’s sake, and cash incentives do not instill this value.

Is NCLB Working? Part II

We received some terrific comments on the Principals’ Office in response to the recent posting “Is NCLB Working?” One commenter said that Jack Jennings, the CEO of the Center on Education Policy (CEP), cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about the CEP report (Has Student Achievement Increased Since No Child Left Behind?) saying that “it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove causality between state test score trends and NCLB.”

So the Principals’ Office went straight to the source. Jennings is quoted in the CEP press release as saying that: “The weight of evidence indicates that state test scores in reading and mathematics have increased overall since No Child Left Behind was enacted. However, there should be no rush to judgment as there may be many factors contributing to the increased achievement.”

The CEP report also says that student achievement in reading and mathematics have increased overall since the passage of NCLB, but leaves the door open about whether it’s all due to NCLB or NCLB and other factors such as increased learning, teaching to tests, more lenient tests, scoring or data analyses, and changes in the populations tested.

The bottom line, as we mentioned in last week’s post, is that only 13 states have enough data to compare rates of improvement before and after the law was passed. Tell us what you think. Is NCLB working in your school? With the reauthorization looming, we’d like to hear your thoughts on this most important education legislation.

Doing Whatever It Takes

To the delight of many students, principals nationwide are submitting to the silly, outlandish, and sometimes embarrassing activities that they promised if students reached a predetermined goal. Shaving or dyeing their hair, eating worms, spending time on the school’s roof, getting a pie (or two) in the face, and sitting in dunk tank are among some of the ideas that principals and their students have come up with.

The goals principals give their students vary from surpassing a fundraising goal to doing well on state exams. “It’s important to have fun at school as well as work really hard,” said principal Candy McCarthy, who recently spent five hours atop her school for her students. “It motivates [the students]. It’s just something silly and crazy,” she added

McCarthy certainly is not alone. What other ideas have you come up with over the years to motivate your students? What are the funniest you’ve heard or read about?

Is NCLB Working?

According to a new report from the Center on Education Policy, NCLB is working. The report says that students have made significant gains in math and reading since the passage of NCLB; and achievement gaps between white and minority students have closed somewhat since 2002. But while students have improved basic skills, the report concedes that only 13 states have enough data to compare rates of improvement before and after the law was passed.

While the CEP report shows student achievement gains since NCLB was implemented, it seems the law still lacks public support. Two out of three Americans want Congress to rewrite or abolish NCLB, according to a Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University survey. Survey respondents who have children in public schools are more likely to want the law altered or abolished than are people who don't currently have children in school.

No More Sniffles

Hawaii just announced that beginning this fall it will offer free flu vaccinations to all elementary and intermediate school students, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. State superintendent Pat Hamamoto said she is recommending each of her principals to schedule a vaccination clinic. “Providing free and easy access to full vaccines for our students will mean fewer sick days and more quality time for classroom learning,” she said.

Nationally, 152 children in the United States died in the 2003-2004 flu season, many of whom were healthy and not in a high-risk group. At $2.5 million, such a program cannot be easily replicated in other school systems. However, there are still steps schools can take to prevent the spread of the illness once flu season begins. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a variety of sources for schools at

Where Have All the Principals Gone?

The shortage of principals is a subject often discussed. As more baby boomer principals plan for retirement and as the job of principals becomes more demanding and complex, the question that keeps being asked is who will replace outgoing principals. Superintendents and principals weigh in on this very important issue in an article in Edutopia magazine.

The article references past studies about the principal shortage, including one commissioned by NAESP and NASSP in 1998, and a more recent one by the Northeast Regional Elementary School Principals' Council, which found that more than 36 percent of principals in nine northeastern states plan to retire within the next five years.

The article also looks at how some school districts are getting creative in their effort to fill principal positions, including mentoring programs for aspiring principals. (Although not mentioned in the article, NAESP offers the PALS (Peer Assisted Leadership Services) program, which trains experienced school leaders to mentor new and aspiring principals.)   

In the Edutopia article, California superintendent Paul Mercier says the bottom line is that principals must be trained, and feel supported and part of a team. “A superintendent must create a culture that is all about solving problems together,” says Mercier. “The single most important thing we can do to bring in and support new principals is make sure that they don't feel they’re out there all by themselves.”

Share the Dream

NAESP, in partnership with the MetLife Foundation, offers Sharing the Dream grants, which help principals fund parent and community engagement efforts in their schools. Since 2004, grants have been allocated to principals and their schools throughout the nation to develop projects that improve their relationships with parents, create a welcoming school climate, and connect students and families with needed resources.

Last year, 30 principals were awarded with grants. This year’s deadline for applications is June 8. Use this opportunity to further engage your school with the community. Applications are available at

Double Take

More and more twins, triplets, and other multiple-birth children are seen in school buildings these days, and it seems that principals face the dilemma of whether to keep siblings in the same classes throughout the year. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, 21 states have either passed legislation or are considering laws concerning twins or other multiples in schools. Parents appear to be adamant one way or the other about how to place their children, so legislators have sided with them by proposing laws that would leave the decision in the hands of the parents.

There is no cut-and-dry research as to whether it is better to separate multiples or keep them together in the classroom, which makes the issue a bit complex. It would be interesting to know what some principals’ experiences have been with multiples in their schools.

Immigrant Students Fear Raids

Moving story in yesterday’s New York Times about the plight of immigrant students. “Immigration Raid Leaves Sense of Dread in Hispanic Students” tells the story of high school students in Willmar, Minn., who juggle state tests, jobs, and the constant fear of immigration raids.

Bee Season

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is coming up at the end of the month with its usual fanfare. But one teacher at Cedar Grove Elementary School will not be mimicking spelling contests in her first-grade class because she thinks “they honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction.” Read last week’s Washington Post article that states that even though spelling bees have become very popular, the teaching of spelling has been overlooked because it is not covered on high-stakes tests. 

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