Comments: 173

  1. Wonderful, hopeful column in times of waning hope. Leadership is not only the key to improving schools and education, but in my life experience, it has been critical in all social and economic institutions including small and big businesses, government at all levels, churches, nonprofits, and the military. Show me a failing unit of any of these and I will show you a leadership problem. In my work life, when we replaced a manager at a failing unit with a proven leader, the results were incredible in terms of morale and accomplishment. So nice to highlight Chicago and other cities that are making a difference.

  2. I guess this comment can apply to Congress, can it not?

  3. Principals are important, but it is the classroom teacher that does the teaching. They need the skills to teach and that means more than giving tests and marking papers. They need a love of their subject matter and that means scholarship and continuing education for teachers. They also need the respect of their students, the cooperation of parents and the support of the public and that means an end to the blame game and salaries that match the contribution they make to society by educating its children.

  4. School improvement certainly is happening. Chicago is an excellent example and if you want to know what is at its core of their growing success check out the book Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement. The study opened my eyes to the impact of trustworthy leadership on teachers, community and kids. If you want to dive into what it looks like in the trenches try the book (self-promotion alert, but principals and teachers have told me it is really helpful) The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, neuroscience and mindfulness in school.

  5. A great school is not an academic boot camp, it a community of nurturing hard working high functioning adults who never give up on the kids they have pledged to serve. I generally don't fully concur with David Brooks column, however, having served as an independent, private school headmaster for the past 32 years, and having also served as a classroom teacher in both public and private education since 1967, I am certain of Brooks' analysis. An educational leader sets the tone by working hard to advocate for students, teacher, and parents. Clearly, today's problems and challenges are complex and often deeply painful for the students whom we serve; and yet, a great school leader will work diligently to protect the people she or he is charged to serve. It is in the very nature of that service, that enduring dedication to the well being of kids and faculty, and, yes, parents, that great schools earn a reputation for quality.

  6. I didn't think it was possible for someone outside of education to capture a key essential feature of successful schools in such a positive way. But David Brooks did it in this article! Now he also needs to follow up and explore other factors -- adequate resources and personnel, a strong arts program, adequate counseling services, a listening culture, help and support for children in difficulty, many extra-curricular activity options that interest students, career and technical education options, parent and community involvement, social and emotional learning supports, strong professional development that helps improve teaching and learning, less emphasis on standardized tests and more performance based assessments, and so on. Not a criticism -- the article is a great beginning!

  7. Good principals who are allowed to have a vision that encourages growth, professionalism, and support are at the root of this. All too often principals are driven from above by government policy.

  8. "What do principals do? They build a culture."

    Amen, Mr. Brooks. Now if only you or some other pundit with access to Trump - Sean Hannity comes to mind - will tell it to Trump that leaders build a culture, not destroy it.

  9. Contrary to what you and Trump believe---the world does not revolve around Trump. This essay was about education. Not Trump. People constantly allow Trump to permeate every segment of their life. Every thought. Sad.

  10. We understand the critical role of leadership in our football and basketball teams, our corporations and our churches, hospitals, police forces, even our cities. So, why is it a surprise that the exact same factors determine how successfully schools accomplish their mission, and how well their 'teams' of teachers and students actually perform?

    Fortunately, David presents evidence here that might make a difference - unless its ignored or sent to the ideological dumpster by political hacks in Washington and elsewhere who themselves flagrantly lack the character traits of successful principles: "energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination".

  11. Good teachers aren’t dependent upon a good principal, but a talented, dedicated leader defines a quality education program. Based on my years of experience as a parent of a public school student, the relationship between the principal and staff sets the tone for the entire school community. A good principal empowers their staff and everyone benefits. Parents sigh with relief!

    I absolutely support efforts (policy?!) to train and retain talented education administrators. It is undoubtably a worthwhile effort. Unfortunately there is a more fundamental problem for American education: Americans don’t value education. Teachers are some of the lowest paid professionals, especially considering their years of training and the long-term impact of their work. Competitive college student generally don’t pursue education degrees. And consider the last presidential election: we had a “nerd” for a president and look what happened.

  12. Important insights, Mr. Brooks! Many, many years ago when I was pursuing my ph. d. in education and social psychology, my dissertation looked at the cognitive styles of those who pursue careers in administration. Those with more open, cognitive styles, the more entrepreneurial if you will, were disproportionately exited from the public schools. Eventually the bureaucracy wore them out and sadly, those who were left behind were the more rule oriented, black and white, closed cognitive styles.
    The DNA that you describe is what schools desperately need....
    There is no question that the most effective principals are authentic, passionate leaders who can build a culture that attracts other educators who are equally passionate about teaching, learning, and developing others. When you walk into a school with such a leader there is a 'smell to the place'. You can sense order tempered by excitement, and education with a mission. But first we need to throw away the rule book and let leaders lead. Most schools of education teach conformity rather than selecting and promoting 'raw talent' based on these 'gifts'.

  13. Thank you David for this positive reporting. Now if only these proven methods could be amplified by federal policies.

    Oops, I forgot, the most influential part of the donor base of the GOP doesn't want the government involved in education and would prefer the whole system was privatized.

    Have you officially become a Democrat yet? Your Republican party left you at the station when it switched tracks to the extreme right.

  14. Switched tracks? More like, went off the rails.

  15. The problem is not test scores and educational institutions. The problem is this hegemonic push to convince our society that "continuing education" is the key to a great country. All continuing education does is create a society that never does anything and ultimately is disenfranchised by the teachers and institutions they give all their time, money and effort. Kids need to chose a path. Not have the path chosen for them by people who do not have their interests at heart. Wake up Brooks.

  16. So true, Mr. Brooks.

    As long long-time small public high school principal, who likes to believe that over his career he did more good than harm, this time around you get far more agreement from me than usual.

    Principals (leaders anywhere) do matter. Of course, they do. So does a a welcoming culture that collaborates to pursue high standards for everyone in the school, students, teachers and support staff. The most successful schools even export that positive vision to their communities, creating and benefitting from the shared synergy.

    That said, one further thought.

    To be successful principals have to have relatively free rein, and not be subject to constant second-guessing by their administrative superiors, school boards or influential community members who might have the ear of either. As you say, research and experience both tell us that real cultural change in schools takes time, and principals, no matter how principled, energetic, dedicated they might be, can't function when they are constantly under siege.

    When they are, you have an obvious explanations of the "burnout" you mention.

    And of course the constant Right Wing attack on all our public institutions, especially schools with all their "lazy teachers and overpaid administrators," doesn't help.

  17. Used to work in a GREAT public HS in the Bronx. Why was it great, because we had a wonderful principal who had been a teacher for nearly 3 decades before becoming a principal. She respected her staff and treated us like professionals and we gave our students 1000% because she gave that much, too.

    Enter Bloomberg and his Principal's Academy, a disaster for moving inexperienced teachers into administrative positions, and Chancellors who had little respect for teachers. Add to this a climate in which every one of society's ills was blamed on public school teachers. But millionaire's know best what is wrong with schools and how to fix them. Don't talk to an actual teacher!

    Long story, short, our wonderful principal retired. She was replaced by an incompetent egomaniac that was favored by the local Bronx superintendent. A man with no skills, no leadership and a bully to boot. The school is now a dangerous place for students and teachers. 90% of the teachers left and the quality has diminished for the remaining students. I know because I keep in touch with my former freshmen, who are now juniors. They lament their choice of schools. Two years is all it took for one man to destroy a very effective school.

    The teachers all feel like we escaped. For the children who miss an education, its a tragedy.

  18. Agreed. The outright propaganda around New Orleans's reform "miracle "is strictly that. Having been on the ground there as a curious citizen, I spent 2 years looking at the state-run charter system where the overwhelming majority of the city's impoverished children and youth with special needs have been warehoused, while the Orleans Parish School Board has held jurisdiction over the schools that are the touted high-performing, but keep in mind they stand out only b/c the overall state performance scores are near the US bottom. Moreover, the media of New Orleans & Baton Rouge is owned by the cabal that brought privatization to the city to begin with. Few realize that while the city was evacuated post-Katrina, the state legislature fired every single employee of NO Public Schools system, funneled $850m in USDOE funds to charters and bring in TFA, whose untrained, deer-in-the-headlight corps members have done little other than spend years punishing students for absurd infractions like chewing gum with the insulting protocols of snapping fingers and calling for Level Zero that characterizes their brand of robotic "education." Meanwhile veteran NOPS teachers who passed tests were hired back after Katrina and they fill the Orleans Parish charters where recognizable education takes place. To call the NOLA charter scam corrupt doesn't begin to convey the ongoing, de-humanizing degradation of the city's most at-risk students now 12 years in the making.

  19. Yes! I'm a retired teacher of 25+ years, mostly in Chicago. Principals must be selected from a pool of energetic, enthusiastic, effective teachers with years of experience! Too often the teachers who disliked teaching brush up their resumes with coursework and express enthusiasm prompted by the chance to escape teaching in interviews.

  20. "Enter Bloomberg and his Principal's Academy, a disaster for moving inexperienced teachers into administrative positions,

    Blomberg has the same effect on his gun-control tours. He has no knowledge of firearms or the 2Amend but he is preaching his gospel to the masses.

  21. Of course, one needs to consider the quality and effectiveness of those former six years of public education that Chicago is now cramming into five years of schooling; and David skips by on that. It could well be that those six years actually are worth three years in how well they prepare kids for college work, yet they’re still taking five years to shovel it.

    It seems that some are DEFINING “talented leadership” by good school performance. That Minnesota-Toronto university study appears to simply assume that if school performance is high, then the principal must be “talented”; yet talented leaders could exist at low-performing schools where the low performance is attributable to factors other than his or her “talent”. As a general matter, it’s probably never bad that a leader be “talented”, but by implying such a direct and exclusive relationship, we could be missing school performance factors we should be considering.

    Just sayin’. I love a tight argument, and I live to be contrary.

    It’s good news about Chicago schools, and heaven knows Chicago needs all it can get. It’s good to see that Rahmbo may have a legitimate legacy OTHER than being the guy who tried to teach Barack Obama how to pull wings off flies (and, thankfully, failed).

  22. @Richard, I object to the title of this Op-Ed, but the columnists don't always title them so I can't fault David. I would title it "Good Leaders Maximize the Potential of Schools."

    I don't even know what makes a "Good School" anymore. Our competition is global, and although my state performs well on international PISA tests, most of the nation does not. So, while any improvement in any district in any state is welcome, clearly there are many factors other than leadership that determine absolute outcomes. I refuse to believe my state has some sort of monopoly on fantastic principals.

    And, I'm sure David understands that. He just likes to promote the 'community kumbaya' approach to solving every single problem in America. Asking faculty to "create a vision of a school that's perfect" by scribbling their thoughts on a whiteboard is just a ton of fun for all, but it's only step zero. If I were in that room, I would have picked up a marker and drawn a dollar sign.

  23. CF:

    Not sure that the dollar sign would be the immediate next step after figuring out where you wanted to go, but it's close. We need to dramatically lessen the reliance of our schools on the value of zip-codes. Logically, such an initiative would come from the left, and it would have been an immensely more worthy and valuable use of political capital to benefit our posterity than the ACA, which basically benefited only people my age and older.

  24. @Richard--I didn't finish the thought, money would be a way to entice good teachers. But, I don't want to get into this teacher thing. I watched a program where teachers were trying to teach kindergartners or maybe they were pre-schoolers some physics concepts like buoyancy and friction. The teachers were upset because they couldn't answer simple questions like "why does the wooden stick float but the rock doesn't?"

    So, which is the worst thing--teachers who don't know fourth grade physics or teaching pre-schoolers stuff they don't need to know yet?

    Old people like you and me? Maybe they ought to haul us all out of retirement and fix this mess of a country we live in. And, the ACA? You and I both know we need some sort of basic health care for everybody in this country. We've been trying to come up with something since Medicare. The ACA certainly didn't help me; the amount of Obamacare taxes I had to pay for other people's coverage makes me cry, but I was happy to help out, as we liberal saps always are.

  25. If you're looking to Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Chicago for information on how to improve schools, you're only looking at urban systems all cast in the "reform" mode where there are plenty of incentives to juke the stats, as seen by the latest information on the illegitimate increase in high school graduation rates in DC. Yes, principals are important in building a school culture, but sometimes, it's the longtime teachers who train the principals in that culture, or the parents who train the new teachers. School culture is very important, but there are lots of great ways to create it. Focusing exclusively on principals feels a lot like the "flavor of the month" school "reforms" that have been plaguing us for two decades now, but by all means, let's keep researching and trying to figure out all the many factors that improve education.

  26. The fraudulent New Orleans "reform miracle" has created the 20-something TFA principal who earns over $100k -- a welfare program for American privileged kids from hither and yon. The reform propaganda has gone unchallenged b/c the middle-upper class families that aren't in the state-run system are blissfully ignorant of nor do they care about its atrocities. They swallow the lies of the ruling cabal who brought privatization to the city while it was evacuated after Katrina by lobbying the legislature to fire all employees of NO Public Schools and owns the media that reports nothing but lies. I've seen it up close as a citizen curious about how miraculous reform occurred overnight in a city legendary for corruption. The bottom line? There is no reform or miracle; it's an illusion created by experts at PR and callous disregard for democratic processes. NOLA privatization has rendered a post-K humanitarian crisis the status quo, visible in the off-the-charts youth/young adult crime rates: can't anyone put 2+2 together? They won't, because the engine for the new "New Orleans" has been school privatization and the flood of privileged white people who poured in as scavengers, driving gentrification and more displacement of native New Orleanians. It's an abomination.

  27. @lch
    Really? You think that teachers or parents can "train" principals. Where and how does that happen?

  28. This is not all that surprising. I remember studies from 40+ years ago that essentially found that the specific curriculum was far less important than having someone in a position of leadership who passionately believed in it and challenged everyone to make it work.

    In a sense, it's not all that different from many other situations. We work harder and better when there's an inspirational leader who pushes us to move beyond "business as usual" to keep improving what we do.

  29. A great article. And I think David has tapped into a gaping yawn in our public school systems. One that I don't think, unfortunately, the current Secretary of Education is going to contribute much of value to and will probably more like, take away some of what is there that's good.
    I do agree with some who post here that we don't value education in this country. We leave it to mostly property taxes to fund the schools. And that's a built-in failure route for poor neighborhoods where properties are of little taxable value. But we don't pay educators/teachers well enough. I have several in my family. They are dedicated. But sacrifice a great deal because of salaries that don't justify all the years of education to prepare. And we don't seem to be able to attract top people to fill the posts for principle and vice-principle.

  30. In Germany, in the mid-1980s, I knew many people who taught or planned to teach. Back in the US, I had very few friends who taught.

    The difference? In Germany, teaching is a solid middle class job, which is respected.

  31. smc1: My friend and I were required to take an upper level education class to complete our master's degrees in a profession other than teaching.
    The education students (who were seeking a master's degree in education), were unable to articulate a thought, were unable to complete a sentence, were unable to write a sentence. It was embarrassing. My friend and I received A's. None of the teacher students received anything higher than a C in this class which was by far the easiest class my friend and I had ever taken.

  32. Great companies have great CEO's and so do schools. Very interesting research.

    If we can solidify great school leadership at the top, it will solve the problem of teacher burnout and sub-par teaching, too. Good culture spreads as well as bad.

    Hope in 10 years principal salaries aren't in the millions like CEO's!

  33. Isn't this obvious? Our local high school had a leader. He was just as this column describes: rarely in his office, always walking the halls calling teachers and students by name, stopping to talk with parents, exuding energy and encouragement. He made decisions himself when things weren't working; he devised solutions with teachers and parents and gave them the go-ahead. No waiting. No layers of management. He was replaced by two co-principals who were managers through and through. They were never in the hallways. Their doors were almost always closed. You could just feel the energy drain away from the school.

  34. I wonder how the principal who makes spontaneous visits to classrooms as frequently as cited has negotiated a truce with the teachers unions. There is hardly a teachers contract in the country that doesnt require advance notice before a principal enters a classroom to observe a teacher. And, for tenured teachers perhaps only once, maybe twice a year. I certainly agree that strong principals are major influences on school performance, but so many of them have their power reduced and their efforts hamstrung by protective teacher contracts.

  35. I have worked in public schools in three states over the past 38 years. None of my contracts required advanced notice for a principal's visit.

  36. In a healthy school, principal classroom observation visits are welcomed. Teachers and principals have the same goal: to constantly improve the teacher's craft. When evaluation is aimed at helping to raise an individual's level of performance, i.e., more collaborative than punitive, they are welcomed by teacher unions. Strong unions can coexist with highly performing schools. The key is leadership, and the key to leadership in education is transparency, goal setting, collaboration, and recognition of achievement. Public school teachers are our most important public employees, but their success is not achieved in a vacuum. And don't for a minute think that good teachers do not need unions. Collective bargaining frees teachers to teach, and does more to prevent friction between these employees and the taxpayers they serve than almost anything else. Superintendents do not have union contracts. And almost everyone resents their salaries. Teachers, not so much.

  37. Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for an illuminating article.
    We must resist the temptation that there is one single thing that will improve all schools. Good principles are crucial, but so are good teachers. So are good parents, yes, and some of the responsibilities lies with the students themselves. But none of these things are isolated. My wife teaches 3rd grade where 25% of the students are homeless. And some of their parents are heroes, some have given up. Corporations are pushing iPads into 3rd graders classroom, when the kids are hungry. Corporations are pushing test regimens on the kids, teachers, principles, administrators, when there are 5th graders who don't know how to read - and their teachers don't know or don't want to know. Corporations are pushing Ritalin and other psycho stimulants on our kids when the stresses of poverty are too much to handle, or the parents are not able or willing to give a child the sense of safety or stability it needs to calm down. Can we blame the parents?
    In this environment principles have to be hyper energetic heroes, but who is fueling them? Teachers need to be heroes, but who is fueling them? Teachers and principles are human's, too, and we need to support them, physically, financially, but also emotionally and psychologically.

  38. I'm sorry, but I don't remember any time when there was serious thought that a school could be transformed without strong, good leadership.

  39. "Good Leaders Make Good Schools"

    One might hope, although it's hard to prove ...

    What the social sciences definitely prove, however, is that Good Students Make Good Schools.

  40. " sciences definitely prove...."
    WRONG !
    Social science is based on interpretation of data.
    Give the same data to another group of social scientists (barf) and you may get an interpretation totally in contradiction.
    " Social science " aint science, and can't "prove" anything.

  41. This is a terrific, uplifting column, Mr. Brooks.

    I agree with your premise that "Good leaders make good schools."

    That said, I'm wondering if you caught Lesley Stahl's 60 Minutes interview of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Sunday night?

    Do you think Secretary DeVos' ideas, insights and leadership are improving our schools?

    Do you think she embodies and is spreading the character traits of the successful principals you are heralding in this column: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination.

    Do you think Secretary DeVos is building a culture, Mr. Brooks?

  42. She’s incapable of doing the job she’s been given, but she’s going to make a fair number of investors a nice bit of change from the public trough.

  43. My father was a successful manager of a retail store. He had a large office in the back that was so cluttered that he never used it. I asked him why. He took me onto the sales floor and told me, "I need to be here where the customers are".

    The leadership of any organization needs to be where the "business" takes place. In schools, the business of teaching is done everywhere but in a principal's office. A successful principal will be where his/her teachers and students are.

  44. Pretty sure the solution is: vouchers.
    That is what Betsy believes and she should know.

  45. Hmmm.... Not a word about the ability to shoot a gun or arm the faculty? We have a president who wants to "harden" schools and an education secretary who admits that it's never occurred to her to set foot in a low-performing school. We have a populace that voted in as president a man utterly lacking in trustworthiness, honesty, and optimism. To set up an expectation that chronically underresourced educators be superhuman (pushing a stand-up desk on wheels around all day?) in the face of the pernicious forces that undermine American society is a typically Republican solution.

  46. "We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them."

    Speak for yourself, Mr. Brooks. I never held this misconception.

  47. Education means the development of the innate talents that we possess as humans. In this sense, personal transformation IS education.

    However, we are still educating healthy students into a sick society, where we would literally rather have people get sick and die rather than pay for their healthcare. We pay twice as much as we should rather than have a little bit of sense and compassion for ourselves and our neighbors.

    The ultimate point is that if we want our children to develop good character and values, the adults have to model that behavior and way of being first.

    There is obviously a lot of work to be done in that respect.

  48. Historicaly good principals have not been "administrators and middle managers, overseeing budgets, discipline, schedules." They have been first rate, experienced educators who infuse their teachers and students with the skill and experience that they gained in the classroom.

    They know what works, not because of statistics, but because they are master teachers themselves. But let's not forget that principals need to manage the education program, not falling plaster, overheated classrooms, lack of heat or up to date equipment.

    Good leadership is not a substitute for a well funded school. And too often those who preach educational reform think that they are.

  49. Can you define “well funded”? Is it $7500 per pupil or $12,500 or $22,500 per pupil?

  50. Tom Peters called it MBWA, management by wandering around in his powerful book In Search of Excellence many years ago. Simple stuff; profound consequences, whatever the business domain, including Education...and speaking as a 40 year career educator myself I would say it matters even more in schools. Still rarely done enough. What a difference it makes in establishing and reinforcing the cultures David Brooks describes that elevate school excellence!

  51. Just saw the movie Wonder, Patinkin played a great principal. There was a scene when a bully's mother was a bigger bully than the kid! It really has to be collaborative synergy with all involved. Kids have to be open to growing emotionally and socially, and that has to be fostered at their community life every day, wherever that may be. Even when parents are unavailable for whatever reason, community means "I've got your back, here's a safe place to grow." The students' communal reaction to the recent shooting is an example. They are getting the support to not give up their cause. It's about the journey, progress that can't always be measured into a statistic.

  52. “Principals set the culture by their very behavior — the message is the person.” Is this effect true for presidents too? I am afraid we will continue seeing a decline in civility and of democratic norms.

  53. My teaching began long ago during the era of New Math, prompted in part by the Soviet space success. Today it's STEM. I started at a very small, rural Montana school. The superintendent, Jerome Kovis, was the finest pubic school administrator I've known. Although the Kovis personality was more intimidating than necessary, his interest in student success and his efforts to send qualified students on to major colleges and universities (some of them the students didn't know existed), was special and inspiring. He was also willing to innovate, to let me (for example) initiate an advance composition and literature class and produce plays aimed at proving the remarkably-hidden talents of those country-raised children. Later, after I had moved on, he surprised me with a letter of encouragement that remains inspiring.
    Unfortunately, many of today's public school administrators are beset by bureaucracy and endless paper-work, so often the schools' leaders are trained to be effective paper-pushers. Many who choose administrative careers are naturally attracted to being "managers" rather than caring, inspiring, motivating leaders. And those who must manage large troubled urban and suburban institutions can find it very difficult to lead with the heart instead of by the numbers.
    Our politicians and reluctance to fund, improve and rescue the nation's public school menagerie promotes remoteness and burn- out. Children are the major victims.
    Doug Giebel, Big Sandy, Montana

  54. Students aren't stupid. They can see right through teachers, administrators and principals who are just marking time.

    I was struck by how many words Mr. Brooks spent describing the best school principals with not much emphasis on how their qualities are received by the school's "customers"--students and parents.

    A principal can be high energy, collaborative, and honest as all get out, but if they lack empathy, or concern for their students, the students will know.

    Would you want to study hard and perform well if you thought the people overseeing your education really didn't care?

    This goes beyond people pleasing: it's the essence of people management. To draw out the best---not just in peers but in the objects of your mission, the students--you need to show them you're their champion and want the very best for them.

    There was a business book a few decades ago that stressed "management by walking around." Seemed pretty basic then, and sure seems appropriate now for schools.

    Sitting alone in your office and calling students in one by one will never compete with rubbing elbows in the classroom and showing interest in--not judgment over--their performance.

  55. In what way does Betsy DeVos mean well? In her plan to privatize public schools, and push a pro-Christian, anti-science agenda? She's the biggest disgrace of all time as Secretary of Education.

  56. Studies show that giving money has short term gains. People habituate to monetary rewards so the rewards have to increase and even then it doesn’t work. People need more than monetary incentives, they need to feel like others believe in them, they need support from parents, school administrators and perhaps most important their peers.

  57. I don't think Betsy DeVos means well.

  58. This well-intentioned article buys in to several fads and shares their blind spots.

    First, you cite graduation and college matriculation rates, but can you say anything about *what* the students are learning? Can they comment thoughtfully on a work of literature? Can they identify fallacies in an argument? Can they prove an important theorem, such as the binomial theorem? Can they distinguish between subtly different political, ethical, or aesthetic positions? All this commotion about test scores, graduation rates, and so forth is empty unless the students are actually learning something.

    Second, you describe "growth mindset" as a desirable feature in a school, not questioning the phrase. Yes, there's evidence that students perform better when they believe they can improve and know how to do so. Schools can help on both fronts. Yet it does not follow that any of us has an overarching "mindset" in the first place or that pure "growth mindset" would be good.

    Third, you describe successful principals as "high-energy types," not recognizing the intellectual aspect of such leadership. I have known outstanding principals who did their work well because they understood both people and subject matter. Those with reserve may at times have more room to consider complex situations.

    Finally (for now), you set up a false opposition between teachings wanting to be left alone and teachers needing to collaborate. Solitude and collaboration are both essential to teaching.

  59. excellent critical analysis ... thank you

  60. Here are some thoughts on this issue from my 50 plus years in teaching - here and in three other countries (mostly here).
    ALL students must be able to read and WRITE at a high level. All good jobs require these skills. ALL students should learn an important foreign language - Mandarin, Spanish and Russian are valuable (and additional languages are also beneficial - the world is getting smaller and smaller). Math and science are a must for ALL students. ALL students must take physics, chemistry and biology. And ALL students must take algebra, advanced algebra, trigonometry and calculus. ALL should learn to play a musical instrument, and ALL students should learn a sport they can engage in for a lifetime - like tennis or swimming.
    I was fortunate enough when I was young to teach in Malaysia (northern Borneo) in a junior high school and a high school (almost 50 years ago). All of the students took physics, biology, chemistry, advanced algebra, trig and calculus. This rarely happens in our schools because we tend to think that these subjects are too difficult for our kids. This short changes our boys and girls, and our country.

  61. Dear esp,
    I know you "think you're fine", but imagine what you could be if you experience all the many ways of thinking that you have brushed off. Learning higher math and experience with the arts are not only skills, they transform the brain to allow different ways of thinking. That's why institutions like MIT, for example, insist in humanities courses for their students.

  62. There is another reason for making sure students get a good education in all of the above areas. If they don't, they have far fewer choices about what to do in life. Of course, one can decide for a student from the age of ten onward that he or she must be a STEM major, in practical vs. theoretical ways, so as to get a job as a cog in the existing industrial-corporate machine. Isn't this a different version of the old vocational ed--or, for that matter, of soviet education systems? Much of education is indirect--you can't quantify with some crude statistical or financial efficiency how reading literature will lead to "critical thinking," much less imaginative and ethical growth. Students deserve exposure to as many high-quality intellectual disciplines as possible, for the sake of their own freedom of choice.

  63. Carol: I have had many humanities classes and a few philosophy classes. I had piano lessons, but would not say I can play the piano. I have visited every continent and even worked in Kenya carrying for HIV positive children. And playing sports was difficult because of severe asthma.

  64. In my role at Mesa Community College leading a China Study Abroad program, I began working with Rhodes Junior High, which was just across the freeway from the college. I met Matt Devlin who was the principal. Energy and vision had taken a school that had declining enrollment and transformed it. They welcomed future teachers from WuYi University in China for a month. They participated in our Garbology program and students left with a plan that cut waste at the school. It was dynamic. Then with budget cuts and the need to close schools that all changed. The vision was scripted for Matt and the teachers at Rhodes. A wonderful example of how people are so important.

    It also highlights how budgets can impact what was a school with dynamics. I have been convinced over the last decade that Republicans don't understand how the public school system is so valuable to our nation. I watched the cuts go deep in the largest community college system in the nation in Phoenix. I watched the UofA, NAU and ASU raise tuition and adjust. They did well despite the Arizona legislators efforts. They are all dynamic today despite the cuts because of leadership. I am watching Western Kentucky University currently laying off 150 people and making other changes. I am not sure the leadership realizes how cutting deep into the staff and faculty will potentially hurt the institution. They are raising tuition and elevating the standards for admission in the face of declining enrollment.

  65. Who would have thunk that management is important? The process, not the title.

    We are currently living in a time when we believe that every process can be managed and perfected through metrics - carefully designed numerical analysis which will drive the widget production and sales to perfection. The problem is that most of our high end processes don't use machines to produce widgets; they use people to produce creative output.

    In schools both the capital equipment and the product are individual people, with individual talents and strengths. Metrics are less important than knowing and understanding those strengths and tilting the scale towards them. A good teacher can be cut off at the knees if told to teach to the workbook. And a bad teacher can get away with remaining bad.

    So whatever secret sauce Chicago is using to find creative principals they need to share with other districts. And it wouldn't hurt if some of our corporations took a look too.

  66. David, you wrote:

    "Social transformation follows personal transformation."

    I agree.

    Society is nothing more than the logical extension of all of us.

    If we wish to fundamentally change society, we merely have to summon the courage to change ourselves - and in certain cases, especially on the political right, to change the channel.

  67. Committed principals are a good part of successful schools, and teachers, and students. Too many of the principals that I worked under for my 25 year career were either at the end of their educational life and retired from teaching into administrative work, or they were climbing a career ladder into the educational stratosphere of superintendence.
    Neither of these two classes of principal had real interest in their real work, but only in their own interests. The first wanted to get through the next hour, day, week, year without any lumps or bumps. The second wanted to prove what a great leader he/she was to follow. Neither the retiree or the striver had much interest in where they were, what they were doing, or who they were working with.
    Find a principal who actually enjoys their job; knows people, and loves kids, and you will likely find a faculty that works together and kids that want to achieve in the classrooms. I have worked for all three types. The difference can be quite startling.

  68. Interesting that the formula for improvement is to take a page from the private school book. The Headmaster - Head, nowadays, often greeted students in the morning, shook hands with each student on their way home at the end of the day, and was a real presence through the school, and the school community. The more presence throughout the school day - with students, faculty, parents - the better. Leave the back office stuff to others to do with the principal's guidance and oversight.

  69. Back in the days when talented women became teachers because of the lack of other opportunities, the principal was the principal teacher. Yes, leadership is important, but it's also true that the best principals build teams and unleash the power of their teachers.
    I don't understand why it's not realized that great teachers are also great leaders. The principals' job is to lead the teachers and the teachers' job is to lead the students.
    Even this piece, which correctly acknowledges the role of principals, doesn't give equal recognition to the role of teachers. Most school reform efforts have tried to bypass teachers. Big mistake.

  70. In a word, it's called DEDICATION. Dedication to the joy and challenges of learning. Dedication to meeting teacher and student needs as they evolve. Dedication to teacher enrichment. It also involves talent and experience, but dedication is more fundamental and essential.

    How do we find dedicated teachers and principals? That, it would seem, is the nub of it.

  71. Smart principals hire the best teachers and have the knowledge to identify the weak and the strength to advise the weak out of the profession.

  72. Although I think Mr. Brooks glosses over the importance of funding, fine teachers, and the incompetence of legislators treating education like a political football, his argument has merit. Speaking as a retired teacher who worked with several great principals and a few not so great, they do make a huge difference and it does not take eight years to make an impact.
    Upon joining a new school district after fifteen in a previous one, I walked into my first teacher meeting with my new principal (Rick Jones), and was greeted by an energy and caring I found truly inspiring. As the year wore on I saw this same energy and caring projected across the spectrum with students, custodial staff, aides and the entire educational community. I watched as the demographics of our school changed and more inner city kids came into the fold, while Rick made adaptations to curriculum, staff and outreach which ultimately made a huge difference in student performance. Rick was loved by the students, community and staff alike and his famous quote of "let's go hard on the problems and easy on the people" still rings in my ears long after I have retired.

  73. Concur with the column. Good principals, good teachers, a good school board and parental involvement is the recipe for success and there a lot of public schools out there that have succeeded. Too bad the current secretary of education doesn't understand this and thinks voucher and charter schools are the answer rather than reforming public schools using a known recipe.

  74. There is a horrible flaw in Betsy DeVos' thinking about vouchers and charter schools. The family that has ambition and stability will make the "choice" for their child to leave a poor performing public school. What about the kids left behind in that school? Who cares about them? DeVos doesn't. She wants that smart kid to have a choice to go to a better school. To heck with those left behind? Why not pull all kids up by improving the school?

  75. In business, we called it managing by walking around! It works because everyone knows you and what you want. Everyone knows you care for them and their results.

  76. As a former educator for over 30 years, I can assure you that classroom teachers are often observed and evaluated by program leaders, principals and sometimes their peers over the course of the school year. So who evaluates the principals and their "energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism and determination?" These qualities are only some of the ones teachers are expected to have on day 1. In the business world these are seen as "soft skills". Without attention to content, these skills will not hold up over time. I've been fortunate to work with principals who were former educators in the classroom often for several years. This background is vital in my opinion; far more than an administrative degree.

  77. A score of two bright and hopeful young students from inner-city minority families would visit us at Rock Plaza, accompanied by their counselor from Puerto Rico who would visit on occasion the homes of the parents. They gave him a warm welcome and above all, he had their trust and listened to their concerns.

    An economist, whom I worked for at the time and his wife, adopted this class of Dreamers but they were wise and astute at recognizing that it was the choice of counselor who would hold the key in ensuring that these young minds would graduate from High School, and take us all to 'College' in a manner of speaking.

    Before this took place, my boss was in an uproar about The State of our NYC School System and a Chancellor on the Board of Education was replaced. But reading what Mr. Brooks writes of how good schools are made, I am thinking of a father this early dawn, an American of Jewish ancestry, a friend of mine with a fine vision of the realities that were facing our young, who taught his son from his crib; his son, whose mother was African that he would be facing greater challenges.

    He was dying at the time when he sent me "IF" and he asked that I read it. His son is now one of our fine scientists, and he pulled himself through on scholarship at High School in The Bronx.

    The death of Chancellor Richard Green was to cause sorrow in 1989, the children liked him although he was stern. Giuliani took a pause in vying for the role of Mayor and New York City went dark.

  78. Good leaders make good almost anything they lead. The problem is there aren't nearly enough good leaders. It's long been true and more so today, especially in K12 education where superintendents promise to make all students above average and the playing field level.

    After 40 years in K12 education I'd say the best leaders are those who set realistic learning goals, provide the resources needed to make it happen, and then get out of the way. If the goals are reached,the best leaders praise those who did it.

    What's needed most is more good students who want to learn more. It all starts at home, and then makes good schools.

  79. Far too many principals nowadays have only a few years of classroom teaching experience under their belt before they start to work up the administrative ladder. Small wonder, then, that leadership and vision is lacking in such people.

  80. Too bad there wasn’t a Secretary of Education who knew what they were doing. Think how really great schools could be by getting all the support they should be getting.

  81. The theme of Mr. Brooks' column seems to be that if we just had more Supermen principals, everything would be OK. I think we continue to place too much of a burden on our principals, and our schools in general.

    Today we expect principals to be like CEOs, not educators.

    They have to manage a P&L; juggle the needs of a host of "stakeholders" with different long and short term goals (students, parents, teachers, teachers unions, school board members, politicians, community leaders, police); run a full-fledged security operation; deal with not only the educational needs of their students, but also every other need--social, nutritional, psychological and medical; address ever-changing societal expectations, like understanding and welcoming LGBTQ students; provide after-school care for students; and now, if Trump has his way, oversee the training and arming of teachers to defend students from racist hate-mongers who have managed to procure weapons of war.

    And yet, most of the principals in our schools still manage to display the characteristics Mr. Brooks lauds in his last paragraph.

    We continue to expect our schools and the people who run them to solve too many societal problems, in large part because our politicians are too corrupt or incompetent to do so.

    To return to my CEO analogy, Wall Street analysts would probably say that schools should focus on their core mission, which is education. Unfortunately, that is unlikely, at least anytime soon.

  82. The core mission is education. The principals written about here clearly understand that to provide a quality education the environment must support it. Bravo.

    (I taught public school in bed sty for 10 years and it was without question the hardest job I ever had.)

  83. I read Mr. Brooks as pointing out the importance of leadership. He does not say that a good leader is sufficient ("everything would be OK") but certainly necessary.

  84. I agree that the load on educators is too heavy. How do we lighten it?
    Perhaps we need more personnel in our schools, like social workers, to help with the problems. But then social workers are also overburdened. So maybe we need create more incentives for social work - better pay and working conditions, and better preparation and support. Our social workers and educators need some time to learn, attend workshops and conferences.

  85. Totally agree. My son teaches high school science in one of the poorest districts in NYC. The school has a high graduation rate and the students are incredibly driven and motivated despite coming from poor and broken families. The Principal at this school has successfully set the tone and the teachers and students work tirelessly towards higher attendance, achievement, excellence and the goal to attend a good college. May their dreams come true.

  86. Fundamentally, ownership, integrity and accountability are the key. This is true to every operation. I think school should be run like a business and principles are CEOs. Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about the typical American cooperations, which only care about share holders' short-term interests. I am talking about a responsible business which tries to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the community. Productivity measurements should be implemented but the outcomes should be measured by years but not quarters. Educational institutions are not efficient and they are lack of accountabilities. The problems are chronical. Unions are the problems. Salary increase should be based on merits and milestones. Most schools are not performing well so teachers should not get a raise. In fact, teachers with poor performance should be fired. The same thing is true to people in the administration including the principle. A better measurement is college graduation rate but not high school graduation rate. A school can play tricks to graduate as many students as possible but these students have no chance to succeed and many of them won't even go to college.
    This country is spending so much money on education. But the outcomes are not great. Business-as-usual is not acceptable anymore. Accountability by objective measurements and milestones should be implemented. The education-industrial complex should be disrupted. Unions should be dismantled.

  87. Well it would be good to replace Betsy Devos with some of the leaders mentioned in the article. Even amongst the incredibly unqualified Trump candidate Betsy Devos stands out as being extra bad at her leadership job.

  88. Ah the benefits of home schooling! A corporate attorney - admitted in four States, a researcher at IBM Labs and a CPA - all the daughters were home schooled. All worked during that time in the family business as well. Now the eldest keeps her eye out, the youngest cooks the books and the middle child can hybridize the future inventory. Student debt? What's that? They all went to small universities emphasizing academics - not one had a single Division 1 team sport - and each provided a fair stipend for children of farm families that tested in the single-digit percentiles. Couldn't do much about their tastes in men though. All aboard the Whaler for the sunrise cruise!

  89. I agree Mr. Brooks. The only thing I would add is that, along with a good principal, the school needs to be supported by adequate funding. Even raise taxes if necessary.....

  90. This is all quite nice, but please just do the math. At 365 days and 16 hours each day awake, there are 5840 waking hours in a year. A school year would be something close to 180 days at 8 hours a day or 1440 hours a year. This means that a student spends ca. 75% of their waking hours someplace else than school. [Add another 90 days of 6 hours and the student still is still over 60% away from school.]
    Do the best you can on leadership, but 3 times the hours in school are in the hands of parents and neighborhoods.
    The 75% have more to do with educational success than the 25%. I would recommend consideration of putting my money there.

  91. "...if you want to learn how to improve city schools, look how Washington, New Orleans and Chicago are already doing it."

    I think that the US should start looking outside its own borders for ideas. Look around the world at nations where schooling works well (based on measurable results) and copy that, not a few schools in Chicago.

    The big question is whether schools should be public or private. What you will find is that what works is a good public system where parents have little choice.

  92. And Strong Leaders Make Strong Systems, Inspire Young People, Graduate an Empowered Generation...

    Dems, what is the PARTY MESSAGE? We need to get Education and many other systems back on track. But - we must win back seats in order to do so.

  93. Washington, DC schools have been faking it. They have been graduating "students" who haven't been attending classes.

  94. "We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong."

    Yes, Republicans have always been wrong about this. See POTUS.

  95. Public schools have themselves to blame for allowing individuals with little teaching experience to become principals. Fifteen years in an upper level classroom (9-12) should be a minimum hiring requirement, but sadly it isn't in many districts. What we have instead are people who entered the profession with one aim in mind: to get out of he classroom ASAP so they can boost their salary as administrators.

  96. Redweather, I came here to say the same thing! In my experience, the best principals had been outstanding teachers first. The worst were people who took a few classes in “school administration” so they could get the certificate needed to become principals as soon as possible to get the salary boost but had no aptitude for the job. Unlike other professions, school administration is self-selected rather than being promoted up from the ranks based on merit, skill, and leadership ability.

  97. American education?

    The first twelve years of education of the American child appear to be run on little more than the philosophy that the child must be fixed, repaired, primarily in impulse, grown straight, which is to say school is too similar to a prison for comfort, with best schools having the best principals (wardens) and with the best records of students "doing time" (least amount of delinquency, best grades) and this is supported in the fact that a high school education today only is worth nothing in society, it just means you were satisfactorily there, did your time.

    And if you want to be something in society, you go on to higher education, which is a business monopoly on what it means to be one of the better humans in society, and it is premised on primarily that the autodidact is nothing in society, equivalent or less to the mere high school graduate, and that to become a quality member of society one must pay a vast amount of money for tuition, spend a number of years, and arrive at the degree which demonstrates that one is at the pinnacle of society, an expert in something.

    It's all very tidy when you think of it, perfectly math/geometric: Your first twelve years are starting from nothing, working through largely a prison framework, to the mere average at best of being a high school graduate, and then the whole scheme is followed by higher education which is business/religious in framework, where you pay, work and are or are not deemed by others expert...

  98. I don't want to discount the affective measures you have illustrated in this article. But the by-the-way you gave to discipline was striking. I taught in an urban high school in a rough neighborhood for the first half of my teaching career, and our school's environment, unlike some of those in the district, was orderly and conducive to learning. The principal had been there for more than twenty-five years. Most of the staff spent their entire careers there. I can't say that student achievement was above average, but the school functioned as a school should. And why? The principal was strict. Instituted rules for punctuality. Supported teachers' disciplinary measures. Had a boys' dean and a girls' dean to deal with disruptive students. Used the now-disgraced measures of suspension and detention--mainly to get parents involved. Even closed the lunchroom (a notorious hotbed of disruption)... This principal's forte was discipline--he was legendary--and I'll tell you what: the school worked. When he retired, a young, affective fellow with a lot of good ideas for restructuring took over--and the school went sideways. I wouldn't give short shrift to discipline as a primary principal-talent.

  99. For anyone interested in this topic read Samuel Casey Carter’s book “ No Excuses : Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools” (2000). The message for school leadership has been out there for a long time and it people fail to see how important leadership of the top can make or break a school including its performance and culture. Thank you David Brooks for keeping this top of mind.

  100. The best leaders I have had the pleasure to work with/under and over, where those that came up through the ranks. Not just 2-3yrs. and failing upwards. Decades in the trenches! On the job with those that do the work.
    The manager that knows how each operation of the plant and the material and labor necessary to move said product along successfully will always be more respected and looked up-to than the bosses son who popped out with an MBA and now attempts to play boss without a clue as to the workings of said plant.
    Same goes for the school. The educator that has put in the time. Understands the needs for each grade. The need and ability to discipline and or, remove the constantly disruptive and or violent child. A principal that will work with the staff. Not lord over them. A principal that will stand up for, and back a fellow educator, instead of cow-towing to a parent and or school board. And yes, a leader that will instruct and or discipline a teacher that needs to be corrected.

    End the latest fad curriculums. The renamed philosophy to spend $$$ upon.
    This mass push for testing and data. Might as well as put the children into halters and factory farms. These are our future. NOT a business.

    Support your local teachers.

  101. As an educator in the trenches for 17 years, your comments have hit the nail on the head!

  102. Thanks Ms. Eck.
    I follow in a long line of educators.
    A grandmother, two parents, my spouse and many friends.
    (Doesn't explain my run-on sentences and poor grammar...)
    I am in awe of those that can do the job.
    Thanks for your service.

  103. We called him the "Buzzer". Our Principal would be buzzing around the school between classes, checking on all. With a smile. But make no mistake, discipline was rampant throughout. A public high school covering the 7th-12th grades. We achieved some of the highest SAT scores and numerous scholarships. Years 1950-1960, Massachusetts.

  104. A plague of inner city schools is chronic absenteeism. Missing from the article is what these Principals did to address this problem. Had it not been addressed, the results would not have been as positive.
    In many NYC inner city public schools, more than a quarter of the students miss a month or more of school.

  105. “We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.”

    Enough said

  106. "Social transformation follows personal transformation."

    What a shame that the present national leadership will not or cannot reinforce that sentiment.

  107. Mr. Brooks fails to mention a few things in his high praise for urban schools. In Chicago and New Orleans there was a major exodus of poor people from these cities during the time frame mentioned. In Chicago much of the public housing was destroyed in the early 2000s and city lost over 200,000 people from 2000-2010. New Orleans lost a large percentage of its poor population in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005. This is a significant factor in the numbers mentioned.

    Moreover, in his instinctive praise for Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school CEOs, because Chicago has an unelected school board, Mr. Brooks fails to mention that in Emanuel's 8 years in office the school system has had 4 CEOs, one of which was in legal trouble because of activities during her tenure as CEO of Chicago Public schools. Also during Arne Duncan's reign, due to his turnaround policies, violence in Chicago Public Schools spiked dramatically. If these schools systems have succeeded it is not because of many of the wrong headed policies fo the leaders mentioned in this article but because of the tremendous dedication of the teachers and faculty of these schools.

  108. Many years ago, we were looking for a house. We visited two junior high schools. In the school district we chose, the principal walked us through the building. Kids were raising their hands, answering questions. One, seeing the principal, called out, "Hi, Mr. Wilson!" and other kids waved. Mr. Wilson died a few years later, but he's my model of a principal.

  109. "These improvements are proof that demography is not destiny, that bad things happening in a neighborhood do not have to determine student outcomes."

    Who ever said either of those things, as baldly and as badly as that?

    Who would ever say that a child traumatized by violence in his neighborhood, whose building is full of gangs, drugs, and prostitution, could never possibly rise above it and prevail?

    Who would say that growing up in impoverished, blighted, neighborhoods, among anxiety about rent, utilities, food, and the specter of homelessness, makes it impossible to do well?

    Who ever said that excellence and ingenuity have no positive impact?

    "We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation."

    Who is out there saying that social transformation follows personal stagnation and sloth?

    Is the intention of publishing this revelation to shame the millions of illiterate children who leave school each year? Should they, their parents, their community, and their teachers know they all fell short of something, that privileged children in well funded schools don't much need to think about?

    Is it impossible to say that gifted, proactive, determined, leaders in schools can make a big difference without his favorite polemic: If such luck isn't on your side, you lack good character traits.

  110. Brooks writes as if the nation’s problems are soluble by tweaking conditions here and there. OK, good leadership is more than a tweak. But leadership for what? Schools are about a lot more than "performance." Americans seem to be dominated by metrics: they're everywhere, from baseball averages to GDP, unemployment, and all kinds of measures of performance and volatility. Obsession with metrics gave America the Edsel and the tragic farce of Vietnam.
    Schools? Is there not a difference between (a) a really charismatic, inspiring leader who makes creationism seem like a holy grail and (b) one equally inspiring but who sees beauty not only in nature but in the quest to discover how nature works? The first insists on taking refuge in the past. The second accepts uncertainty and makes an adventure of it. We hear over and over that it's for parents to decide how their children shall be educated. Skipping over the hidden implications, let’s just ask: does Betsy Devos represent all the parents of America? Does Trump?

  111. I have been observing the implosion of the second worst school district in the state for the last two years. It began when a bad school board passed over an administrator who had been an outstanding principal, for a sociopath from out of town.
    His secret to success was never being in;the office, always in classrooms, 400 home visits a year, and an absolute focus on improving standards.
    Principals are the number one key to improving performance.
    The rest, is all tertiary.

  112. Yes, good leaders make good schools. Which is why having Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary is so disastrous for schools. An avowed enemy of public education, woefully unprepared and unfit for the job, her cringeworthy interview on 60 minutes would be instant grounds for dismissal in any other First World country. But in what is rapidly becoming our banana republic, she is one of Trump's "best people." Sad.

  113. DeVos and Trump are not the issue here, as much as the left would like them to be. The issue is and has always been what a principal is supposed to be and that is the principal teacher, not a good "buddy" to the staff or a union negotiator, or a data driven educator, but someone who can transmit the best methodology, who knows what teachers have to deal with every day, and who can encourage them to do their best, who can develop a climate of the best expectations and then help teachers and students and parents reach those goals. And in the end, the principal has to be able to evaluate teachers and separate the "wheat from the chaff" and be willing to take the heat and steer those who cannot or will not teach effectively to find other employment. DeVos and Trump can't do a thing to select good principals.

  114. It is true that good leaders make good schools but it is true that good anything blank makes good blank. The DANGER with this statement is when a "good leader" that has never taught a classroom gets hired as a leader just because they are good. And that is not good for Education which has been proven over and over again!

  115. New York City spends close to a million dollars a year to educate one class of 33 students. The results are pitiful. Thirty billion dollars divided by one million students.
    If you see graduation rates climbing quickly, the cause is the schools lowered standards for graduation. If they say they raised standards and graduation rates increase, it simply isn't true.
    Selection of administrators is based on nepotism, cronyism, and old boy networks everywhere in the USA from the biggest cities to the smallest counties. Some highly qualified people are chosen but it is not because they are the most qualified but because they are in one the networks and qualified. Teachers are often selected because of family relationships. If you don't believe it is true in your school, go and investigate.
    There is no perfect solution but if we were to try and utilize Adam Smiths invisible hand and reward success it might improve. Allow teachers to choose their own principals and give them autonomy. Allow parents to choose which schools they send their children to. Reward teachers by how successful they are at attracting students.

  116. Take the time to read the research. Every teacher doing whatever the heck they want is exactly the problem. This creates a complete lack of education continuity for students. And I think that somehow in your analysis you forget about the kids.

    Check out the decades of research from CCSR to understand the importance of school leadership in creating the conditions for driving student achievement. In no way are teachers left out of the equation.

  117. "New York City spends close to a million dollars a year to educate one class of 33 students."

    The problem with schools is in that sentence-- a single class should not have 33 students! After over a decade spent teaching in both independent and public schools, and being the product of a public school education myself, I can tell you that absolutely no class should have more than 16 students. Having a favorable student-teacher ratio is, in my opinion, the single biggest factor that leads to success for schools-- principals, teachers, and students alike.

  118. "... Allow parents to choose which schools they send their children to. Reward teachers by how successful they are at attracting students. ..."

    A significant number of parents are choosing home schooling or christian madrasas. Not good.
    The correlation between good teachers and charismatic teachers has not been established, and I would speculate is weak.

    I recall 1 or 2 charismatic teachers in the catholic parochial school I spent 8 years at back in the 50's and 60's, but any time spent with rote memorization of the Baltimore catechism was a total waste of time, time that should have been spent learner 'real' and useful things such as critical thinking skills.

  119. I have known two superior school principals from my children's years in school. Both knew every student in their school. Both spent more time welcoming all the parents--the poor ones, too--than they did trying to please the various constituencies who advocate for their own children and their own agendas and don't worry about anyone else. One was an elementary school principal and the other a high school principal who greeted students every morning as they came into the building. At the time each was a principal, those were the best schools in our county and perhaps the region. Remember when we used to consider education not just a profession but a calling (and teachers were revered and not treated like dirt)? This is what I love about David Brooks even when I disagree with him: he is at heart an idealist. He may even remember when evangelical meant "spreading the GOOD news."

  120. Brooks writes that: "energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination." are the needed qualities of leadership. True enough but his point would be better if he noted those qualities are lacking at the highest levels of national leadership. DeVos and Trump are the faces of federal education and combine ignorance and arrogance in equal measure, thus disdaining the very idea that knowledge gained through education is worthwhile. Just inherit a lot of money and follow your "gut' and you "don't need no education".

  121. "Good leaders make good schools."

    Then how do you explain Betsy DeVos? Yes, the Secretary of Education! Let's give blame where blame is due -- Trump. First of all, it's yet another of way too many examples that shatter Trump's self-promoted image of being a "successful businessman" who hires only the "best people."

    And it's Trump's toxic mixture of pathological liar and delusional mess that allows him to shamelessly insist that his Administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine."

    Betsy DeVos, Educational Leader. Any questions?

  122. Don’t conflate graduation rates with education. The millennial generation is the “most educated” but half of them have degrees in alternative dance painting therapy from what I can see.

    Just because the school gives you the paper doesn’t mean you actually learned, it might mean they passed you along until you were off their stats book.

  123. "When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to the character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination. We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation."

    And then think about the group of grifters and incompetents in the White House and our secretary of education -A mindless political hack!

  124. It really is simple:

    Support public education wholeheartedly instead of demonizing educators and schools for profit and politics.

    The mere fact that self-made heiress Betsy DeVos is allowed to pretend to care about education says everything we need to know about current policy makers' respect for public education and its role in that abandoned form of government called democracy.

  125. "self-made heiress" is an oxymoron.

  126. Read some of the comments from the obvious teachers and other education professionals. Nothing, especially this, is simple.

  127. Sure, good educators and governmental support make good schools. There's nothing surprising about this except to Betsy DeVos

  128. This reminds me of letting MBA's run manufacturing facilities. Manufacturing is now down to 11% of GDP. The "workers" may not have all the answers but they do see reality.

  129. This is exactly right.

    Years ago, I worked for a time as an artist-in-residence with Urban Gateways, a Chicago organization that sent young painters and poets into various elementary and middle-schools to present one-week workshops. I taught fiction writing, briefly, in Cabrini-Green and on the South Side.

    And after a few weeks it became clear that the principal of each school determined whether or not the teachers would welcome upstarts like me into their classrooms for a week. If a principal spoke to me when I first arrived and was curious and offered suggestions, the teachers were also engaged and helpful, and their students were lively. If I arrived and it became clear the principal found me a nuisance, an imposition, most of the teachers were also unfriendly, distant, impatient. In one of the most unhappy, grim grade schools, a teacher actually snarled at me. This was the same guy who marched small groups of boys outdoors, once in a while, if they’d misbehaved, and struck them. All the other teachers knew of this habit. The principal didn't care.

    It took me a while to recognize this pattern since I was inclined to believe that real power flowed from the bottom up, from The People to The Boss, not from the top down, and I’d never given a thought to the significance of A Boss, an administrator, and his or her attitude. But there it was.

    Boy oh boy, it’s a pleasure to read good news about Chicago.

  130. Rather good schools make good leaders, which requires education to be placed high on the national policy agenda with enough fund allocation, community support, and the regular monitoring mechanism that ensures the quality of school education both in terms of teaching standards and the learning outcomes.

  131. Developing character has not been high on anyone's list for 40 years. Cultivating personal virtues, the same. Yet, both seem to have a serious effect on leadership ability, just as competence does, in any organization. I'm not sure why we have neglected that. It seems to be common sense from any experience in an organization. Is it fair to say that sociologists and psychologists have no common sense? Surely that conclusion would be wrong. What would the correct answer be?

  132. There is no secret to this - it's really always been the case. Good schools have good principals, and a culture that develops good teachers. We don't value the work that either the principals do, nor the teachers.

  133. Hear, hear!

  134. Not to quibble with the notion that "Good Leaders Make Good Schools", but I am of the opinion that it's the other way around; that namely, Good Schools Make Good Leaders.
    And anyone familiar with the concept of 'Separate but Equal' and aware of the differences found between the educational standards in schools located in poorer districts and those in wealthier ones, knows this to be true.
    In fact, that's exactly what brought about BROWN vs. BOARD of EDUCATION.
    And it's also not by chance that this also happens to apply along strictly racially divided lines.
    While the restructuring of a school and the rebuilding a school-culture conducive to learning might be one thing, the core of the problem still needs to be recognized if the problem is to be eliminated. And as long as wealth defines where the best principals, teachers, leaders and school budgets go, no amount of wall decorations will make a real difference -- and no amount of research will either.

  135. A key research observation is that the more hands on, engaged the principals are, the more effective they are. This theme also applies to teachers and students as well. Truly collaborative educational institutions engage people at all levels in the organization.

  136. Free preschool and mandatory kindergarten probably had more to do with the success of test scores than principals. However, I do not disagree that a principal who models behavior for students and who is supportive of teachers and the learning environment will make a difference. Principals who come up through the ranks understand the challenges of the classroom. Remember teachers are also leaders, and they can not function as leaders in their own classroom if they are not supported by management who is focused on success. So, while I agree with Mr. Brooks about the importance of leadership, I believe free public preschool and mandatory kindergarten are critical factors in improving test scores and, ultimately, preparedness for post secondary education (college or not). The leadership in education also has to come from state legislatures supporting these programs. Sad to say Indiana and other states lag behind in both of these areas.

  137. I was with you until the end. Yes, social transformation follows personal transformation, but when talking about society in general, not just schools, in the absence of a laws and institutions that allow for personal growth, personal transformation is not as likely to happen.

    Anecdotally, my own child went to one school where pulling down the pants of students during recess was quite common, and when the principal was asked to address the problem, she said something to the effect that it's a hard world out there and they should get used to it early on. When my son went on to middle school, the principal (a former nun) created a strong school culture, was energetic, trustworthy, honest, optimistic, and determined to make sure that the students were not only knowledgeable, but prepared to move on to high school, having acquired superb organizational skills and good attitudes. Leadership does make a huge difference.

    It is too easy, however, for the idea that individuals alone are what makes a difference to morph into a belief that individuals, not institutions, are what make great societies. The danger is that that belief can then morph into an every-man-for-himself mindset. Yes, leaders make a huge difference, but without policies in place to make sure all our children are healthy, well-fed, and well-educated, too many potential good leaders will never be able to realize that potential.

  138. Having taught 30 years in socially, economically deprived schools, the most important factor to success was an excellent principal.

  139. I saw this happen at my daughter's elementary with a succession of principals.

    Most of the time when you heard her first principal speak, it was through a megaphone (including in the hallways and cafeteria). Let's just say this was not a two-way listening device. "That megaphone!" the teachers used to say, in sufficient summary, when he was gone.

    The second principal was inexperienced and haughty—when they had the annual open house at the start of the year, she seemed to recoil from parents coming up to say hello and welcome her, as if she didn't know why they were there. She got another job offer and left without bothering to preside over the annual end-of-year awards ceremony.

    This was a not-large school "out in the county," as we say here, where many children were attending the same elementary their parents had. The third principal recognized this as a strength, encouraged pride and tradition, always made time to chat with parents, and most of all respected teachers and encouraged them to collaborate as a team. The school became a lively, supportive community again. The results were truly remarkable. Our test scores soon ranked in our school system second only to the two schools attended by the rich kids and the children of university profs. And this was accomplished while making it a place that felt fun and welcoming. I'm sure he had faults and I don't know how his tenure ended, but he was the right principal at the time. Humane leadership matters more than "process."

  140. As a public school teacher in the New Orleans area, I couldn't agree more with this analysis on the importance of leadership. This idea of building culture from the top down cannot be understated. As teachers, we wholly expect the kids to act like kids, but we become quickly disillusioned when the administration and central office don't rise to their roles. This becomes painfully obvious when you notice that the principal's car is the last to arrive and the first to leave for the day or when you try to deal with the incompetence that pervades in our district human resources or technology departments.

    Back to administration though, I would add that the most necessary element of competent leadership is the ability to observe and listen before formulating strategy. A theme that tends to run across "bad leadership" is a crisis of confirmational bias when the administration comes in with ideas and cherry picks the evidence to support it according to the newest and latest trend in education. I can remember specifically our first day back after last summer listening to my administration use data to extoll the importance of building relationships as key to student achievement (which I wholly agree with) while telling us that class size has no bearing. When I pointed out the irony of trying to build trust and social capital in a room with 37 students, I was only met with a disapproving blank stare and told to look at the data. My observation did not confirm what they wanted.

  141. Mr Brooks presents a thoughtful and optimistic analysis of public education. I don’t disagree with any of the suggestions. But he has omitted a crucial component for success: public support for education. I don’t care how talented the principal or enlightened the administration — she could be Socrates, John Dewey, and Clark Kerr in one package — without public support principals will work with one arm tied behind their backs and burn out before they can achieve their vision for their schools. When the state’s legislature cuts appropriations for public education by 20% over 5 years, when as a result teachers you have invested in leave your school for a better position elsewhere, when you are forced to reduce school weeks from five to four days, when class sizes begin to approach 35, the best principal will find herself spending more and more time keeping the lights on, rather than strategizing about improving educational outcomes. And when principals see the parents of their students consistently voting for legislators who think they can progress by cutting more and more from public education, even the most high-energy principal’s motivation will begin to flag. Creative, talented and energetic leaders have to be married to progressive, supportive publics to achieve success.

  142. The importance of strong leadership and management to the success of an organization will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes reading the multitude of books on the subject. It is in the logical extension of that message, however, where the necessary action takes place: to be successful, an organization must actively recruit, hire, train, and retain the best people.

  143. In a "multitude of books" neo-classical economics makes sense, as well. In practice, it works only to provide a nice, tight framework for the study of something that doesn't exist.

  144. I look forward to sending this column on to several of my friends who are now retired principles. Thank you, Mr. Brooks.

    But I would like to emphasize two thoughts. First is the importance of the vice-principle. Not only should she/he have experience and leadership qualities but she also needs to maintain a continued working rapport with the principle, and vice versa. Together they serve the students and their valued educators. They are a team.

    The second thought is our support for public education. It is time tested, and one of the finest assets in a vibrant democracy. Our students will soar under the guidance of school districts and states which promote and financially assist both the entity itself and its public servants. So much is made of "private" education and even home schooling nowadays. But it can not surpass the education of cultural diversity.

  145. Mr. Brook's, are you referring to Washington DC? If so, you haven't been paying attention to the latest news coverage of the very troubled school system. While DC has always seemed to under-perform in public schools, the root of the latest disaster was created when right-wing darling Michelle Rhee decided that all that would measured are test scores and graduation rates, and teachers and principals would be rewarded or fired based on those results. It does not take a lot of insight to predict that this was a recipe for cheating, fraud, and cover-ups in order to meet goals.

  146. DC schools were performing prior to her arrival? You must have the wrong DCPS. The schools were and are a disaster. You may disagree with what Michell Rhee did but do not suggest the schools performed well prior to her arrival.

  147. Did you read the part where I said "always seemed to under-perform"

  148. I thought the key to success in public schools was stealing their budgets and transferring them to charter schools with lighter-skinned students?

  149. "A lot of teachers want to be left alone and a lot of principals don’t want to give away power, but successful schools are truly collaborative."

    Brooks' columns are beginning to read like Hallmark cards, oddly detached from reality and context, filled with sentiment.

  150. These are the most important jobs in for America's future - principals and teachers. Let's pay these people......

  151. Like Betsy DeVos.

    Trump is taking his joke-show to every part of American governance and Republicans either don't care or love it.

    Talk all you will about one school or one teacher. America is getting taught a lesson alright.

  152. I'm not sure with everything going on why Brooks would write this. I work as a teacher in Chicago and this is complete balderdash. It's almost as if Brooks was facing a deadline and so he went on the internet and squeezed something out. School test scores aren't reliable data. You would have to dig a little deeper if you wanted to write a meaningful column on American education. We do have a couple of airports, a bus station and a train station here so if Brooks wants to add some depth he could visit.It would be a commitment. Something like the principal with the rolling desk.If not, Stormy Daniels is out there and wants to give the $130,000 back.

  153. As teacher for 39 years with multiple offers but little interest in becoming a principal I have found that most principals are career educators more interested in power (consolidation and advancement) than in the quality of teaching. My experience has taught me that school boards in particular, are the cancer of public education. The best teachers have a difficult time because power flows from the top down – with career educators telling experienced teachers – what it’s all about. At the end of their journey ask the kids who made the biggest difference in their learning, it’s not the principal, it’s the teacher. Power needs to be redistributed so that the best teachers are recognized and not denigrated. I was told by my superintendent that she should never have hired me. I still get letters from my students.
    “You taught me so much more than biology at QHS. Your knack & sense of humour for questioning authority and love of philosophy has inspired me and I’ve passed that onto my daughters. Your ripple effect gets only stronger with each generation. You’ve made such a huge difference you’ll never know its full extent!” Dr. T. D. 1980

  154. Pairs well with: unfortunately, a crucial quality for a successful teacher to have is charisma.

  155. If only the Times had someone who knows education writing about education on the Op-Ed page. . . .sigh.

    Washington, New Orleans and Chicago are primarily the sites of scandal. Test score manipulation makes the reports of "improvement" meaningless. New Orleans experienced a "miracle," which was the wholesale dismantling of traditional public schools in favor of charter chains that cream students, further segregate schools, and employ absurd, often abusive "no excuses" disciplinary practices.

    The things Brooks cites like, "the rituals for welcoming members into the community; the way you decorate walls to display school values; the distribution of power across the community; the celebrations of accomplishment and the quality of trusting relationships" are trite bits of PR, that fill schools with colorful slogans and call students "scholars." They are useful only for impressing visitors like Brooks or the fully incompetent Betsy DeVos.

    It is true that leaders are important, but the gimmicks of education reform are not what improve schools or nourish students. Overall, education reform is decimating public education and growing an unaccountable system of charter chains and for-profit scams.

    Excellent leadership in Chicago from Arne Duncan, Janice Jackson and Rahm Emanuel???? Duncan was a short-term carpetbagger and went from doing nothing in Chicago to doing damage in Washington. Rahm is a political opportunist who has advanced the worst of "education reform."

  156. The column drives home two truthful adages: 1) Programs don't drive positive change, leader do! and 2) More gets "caught" than taught"!

  157. I would add one thing to the equation: Good Teachers.

  158. Yes. He completely ignores the people who actually do the work with students in favor of praising management. So typical of writers who are lost. Principals manage; teachers teach. Who is doing the actual work? Not the manager (principal). In 31 years of teaching I found very few principals who knew much about teaching or leading. The best ones left me alone after realizing I knew what I was doing.

  159. You don’t know how correct you are: “Social transformation follows personal transformation.“ This is true across the spectrum of what we mean by society, whether of a country or of a city or of a workplace or of a family.

  160. “Good Leaders Make Good Schools”

    This may be what David Brooks believes, but Trump, Betsy DeVos and the rest of the GOP have a better idea - “God and Guns Make Better Schools.”

  161. How can you talk of leadership at a time like this?

  162. Ironic that you give a shout-out to Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan - Obama’s Chief of Staff and Secretary of Education respectively - at the same time that your colleague, Michelle Goldberg, is highlighting the counterproductive efforts of the current SoE, Betsy DeVos...

    And who would have thought that anything positive or productive could arise out of the post-apocalyptic hellscape that President Trump knows Chicago to be?

    Could it be, David, that you’re finally ready to come out of the closet and acknowledge what and who you are, a centrist Democrat?

  163. Go to a large urban high school instead of a "feel-good" elementary school and you will see chaos.

  164. Excellent top-down leadership is also excellent bottom-up leadership. The two are synonymous. The moral and ethical spirit of any work unit is set at the top where the space is created to generate creative production from the ranks.

    It is well known that innovation emerges more effectively from pooled talent than from mutually suspicious silos. Good leadership envisions, enables, shapes and fosters collaboration; it does not control arbitrarily or vindictively. It listens and decides rather than dictating from high, isolated towers.

    We have known this for a very long time which renders mysterious why effective leadership seems to be in such rapid global retreat. Perhaps our ego-driven lust for human domination is simply too powerful to tolerate established knowledge and common sense. We may suspect this, but we cannot accept it.

    Democratic governance depends on good leadership for its survival. We worker bees need to recapture it from our temporary swerve toward mad dysfunction.

  165. Right, and the leader of the country is....

  166. Thank you Charles. You have put it better than I.

  167. Yes! As many studies show, great teachers make a difference. Good administrators get out of their way and promote, protect, and provide support for those teachers who demand the best from their students.

  168. Bootstraps, personal responsibility -- check. Thanks, this makes me not worry so much about Betsy DeVos!

    Can we expect more feel-good columns about capable do-it-yourselfers making up for abdication of EPA and State Department?

  169. With this column Brooks has perhaps set the stage for 2020.

    Dem's will have to contend with " ..the obsessive, energetic drive of Mayor Rahm Emanuel." who would be a good counter to Trump and could perhaps eat his lunch.

    I wouldn't mind President Emanuel and perhaps he could get Geoffrey Canada for secretary of education.

  170. Time to apply it to Washington. Let’s start with Republicans.

  171. Leave it to Brooks to trumpet a simplistic answer to a complex systemic problem. He will always choose a solution that ignores the consequences of rampant and deep economic inequality. Educational leadership is great, but alone it will prove ineffective in the face of conditions that make our schools, and towns and neighborhoods, separate and unequal.

  172. David Brooks "Good Leader" column should
    read and include Michelle Goldberg's "Devos Disaster" column and included excerpts into his text. Ms Devos is NOT a leader. Shows no interest or ability to understand or even visit those public schools that need her help .. And has no interest in improving those schools.
    Ms Goldbergs column should be required reading for David before he joins a discussion on the public school systems in our country.