One of my passions in K-12 education policy is advocating for the core notion that highly trained principals, with control over their school budgets and a real say in teacher evaluations and placement, makes sense. Strong leaders matter.
Last year, through the support of the entire Seattle legislative delegation, I was able to include a provision in the painfully ineffective "Race to the Top" legislation that ultimately eliminated tenure for new Seattle principals. This year I introduced a bill to create an alternative certification route for principals with strong backgrounds in community service, business, and many other categories outside of the traditional education route.
As the regular legislative session concludes, it’s worth noting openly that efforts this year to pass the alternative-certification bill were a total, complete, and fantastic failure.
After a very heavy lift from Rep. Marcie Maxwell, the bill passed the House, slightly weakened during the committee process but with the core policy idea standing firm. In the Senate, the bill was eviscerated with such tremendous force that it actually managed to go in the very opposite direction than originally intended. It was so weak that the message wasn’t lost on anyone. I put the bill out of its misery.
I have to admire the ferocious political force of the education industrial complex that made it clear that passage of this bill was not an option. A united front of the Association of Washington School Principals, Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board, Washington State School Directors Association, Washington Association of School Administrators, Washington Education Association, and others were actually good natured in their powerful slap down of the bill.
I am not, of course, personally or professionally unappreciative of their view that opening the door to those from outside of education is an unacceptable intrusion upon the grip of the institutional infrastructure of education. I happen to believe that the light of new ideas, new energy, new approaches, and new methodologies is a positive and not a negative. But during these tough budget times I do actually understand their argument.
Upon reflection, the part of the journey that genuinely disappointed me about this political defeat was that last year during the interim I actively and aggressively reached out to the stakeholders and asked them to work with me to craft legislation for the 2011 session to strengthen the role of principals. They politely declined the invitation. And then when the session began and I introduced the legislation, they kicked into high gear to kill it without reservation.
I certainly did discover what the opponents found objectionable about the bill’s core idea. They were very clear about that. Unfortunately, I just never was able to discover what they actually support in striving to improve the role and value of principals. They never got around to answering that question.
The bill’s life was a glorious, unmitigated, unrestrained failure. But at least we were willing to risk failure to discuss the role, value, and impact of principals on teaching and learning. I do want to thank the Excellent Schools Now Coalition, League of Education Voters, Stand for Children, Partnership for Learning, Seattle Public School District, and many other supporters of the proposed legislation who were willing to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions about what it takes to carry one of the most important education titles: Principal.
Editor's note: This story is an edited version of an article in Rep. Carlyle's blog.