National Council on Teacher Quality                                                                                      
September 2010

This insightful policy brief examines the amount of control the average principal wields over hiring and HR decisions in the very schools for which they are ultimately accountable. It looks at state laws, regulations, and district policies in 101 large school districts (containing 20 percent of public school students in the US) and names several factors standing in the way of principal autonomy over teacher hiring decisions:

  • Centralized hiring and assignment. Districts make most hiring decisions and determine where teachers will be deployed. (This begs the obvious question of how principals can be held fully responsible for student achievement when they don’t select their own teachers.)
  • Teacher evaluations. The inability of teacher evaluations to distinguish effectiveness (in part, with student growth data) makes them feckless as part of the hiring/firing process.
  • Teacher seniority and teacher placement. Principals do not have significant decision making ability when it comes to who is transferred into their building. As decisions are often based on seniority, principals may have to take a teacher with more years of experience over another who might be a better fit. In fact, only six districts in the study allow performance to be a deciding hiring factor.
  • State dismissal laws. Limiting the reasons for dismissal to incompetence, immorality, or neglect of duty does not allow principals to fire ineffective teachers and ultimately make the best decisions for their schools.

NCTQ offers three basic solutions:  allow a teacher’s performance to be given weight over experience, deny teachers of having a job for life regardless of effectiveness, and give principals the freedom to end contracts.  Overall, this paper gives serious direction as to how school leaders can gain control over their largest resource – staffing – to ultimately improve student outcomes. See the brief, here.

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