New Report by Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning Finds California Principals Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Budget cuts challenge teachers, Principals struggle to meet dual roles of school manager and instructional leader.

Sacramento, CA, December 14, 2011 --( A new survey of more than 600 school principals finds California’s school site leaders between a rock and a hard place. Historic budget cutbacks present significant challenges to classroom teachers, thereby increasing the importance of the role principals play as a source of instructional leadership and support. But California’s disinvestment in its schools is also expanding school management responsibilities for principals. Facing growing demands and declining resources, school principals increasingly struggle to find the time, resources and capacity to meet the dual challenges of effective school management and ensuring quality instruction for California’s students.

These findings and others can be found in The Status of the Teaching Profession 2011, the annual report on California’s educator workforce by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd with research by SRI International.

“Research shows that second only to classroom teachers, school principals play a key role in improving student achievement,” says Holly Jacobson, director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd. “But budget cuts and increasing accountability pressures are clearly making the job harder. Just as teachers most need their support, principals have more to do, and less time, resources and support to do it.”

In addition to its findings on school principals, the report provides new information on key issues impacting the teaching workforce, including more than $100 million in cutbacks to teacher professional development, a dramatic decline of more than 50% in the enrollment of prospective teachers in training programs, a 40% drop in the production of newly credentialed teachers, and escalating retirements. The report also makes clear that California does not have the data system it needs to inform and guide future education policy decisions.

“California has increased its educational expectations, embracing the new Common Core State Standards and more meaningful systems of assessment, but historic budget cuts are impacting the abilities of teachers and principals to do their jobs,” says Patrick Shields of SRI International. “Schools are struggling to get the resources they need to increase student learning and California faces heightened uncertainties as to whether it will be able to meet future demand for a high quality teacher and principal workforce.”

Amid an increasing state and national focus on teaching quality, the report also examines the capacity of principals to conduct teacher evaluations. While the majority of principals have prior experience in key areas of evaluation, more than one-third of principals say they had no or minimal experience in formally evaluating teachers prior to becoming a principal. In one quarter report they had no or minimal experience in conducting classroom observations. Once on the job, about one third of principals say they receive minimal or no professional development in these areas of teacher evaluation.

When it comes to using the information to strengthen teaching, just over one half of principals strongly agree that their administrative team has the expertise needed to conduct classroom observations to identify teachers’ areas of need. And while a majority of principals say that formal performance evaluations inform individual teachers’ professional development or school-wide professional development, just one third say it does so to a great extent. Less than half report that teacher evaluations inform to a great extent whether teachers are retained. Almost 40 percent said that when a teacher is not performing satisfactorily, they tend to handle the matter outside the formal teacher evaluation system.

The report also examines principal’s views on barriers to teaching quality. Principals more frequently identified staffing-related issues than limited time or resources to increase the expertise and skills of their staff as a whole. Nearly half identified the influence of teacher seniority on staffing decisions as a “serious barrier.” Just under three quarters (73%) say overly cumbersome procedures for removing a teacher identified as unsatisfactory pose a serious barrier to teaching quality.

“California’s principals face significant challenges in meeting their dual responsibilities as school managers and instructional leaders and they are frustrated by the time consuming chore of removing unsatisfactory teachers, no matter how few those may be,” says Holly Jacobson. “But at a time when teachers may most need their help, principals are also greatly challenged to use evaluation in ways that inform and improve classroom teaching. California needs a fair and effective system of evaluation focused on strengthening the quality of teaching.”

The report also includes recommendations for strengthening teaching and leadership in California’s schools. The recommendations are focused on improving the state’s system of teacher development and evaluation in ways that strengthen the quality of classroom practice and address the challenge of preparing for the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. The recommendations also encourage the development of data systems capable of providing policymakers and educators with the information needed to promote student learning, strengthen the teacher and principal workforce and address educational equity issues.

The Status of the Teaching Profession 2011 is published as part of the Center’s Teaching and California’s Future initiative. Research for the report was conducted by SRI International and includes an original survey of more than 600 principals in California, follow up interviews with principals and teachers, and analysis of secondary data. Funding for Teaching and California’s Future is provided by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the Stuart Foundation. The research report and summary materials are available online at

Stone's Throw
John McDonald