School Administrators Struggle With Politics, Bureaucracy

A new survey released by Public Agenda, a New York City-based research organization, finds that while public school superintendents and principals nationwide believe that strong leadership can dramatically improve troubled schools, many school administrators' efforts are often frustrated by bureaucracy, politics, and a lack of authority.

The survey, which was commissioned as part of LEADERS Count, a national initiative of the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds, found that 79 percent of superintendents and 69 percent of principals agree that finding a talented principal is the first step to turning around a troubled school. However, the majority of superintendents say they have to work around the school system to accomplish things and that school boards interfere with their ability to do the job. In addition, more than half the principals surveyed said that day-to-day management issues impede their ability to lead. Overwhelming majorities of both superintendents (92 percent) and principals (89 percent) said they would be more effective if they were given "far more autonomy to run the schools" while being held accountable for getting results.

"[Superintendents and principals] are convinced that strong leadership can transform schools — and they are especially eager for more power to reward good teachers and remove poor ones — but politics and bureaucracy just eat away at them," said Public Agenda president Deborah Wadsworth.

"Politics and Bureaucracy, Not Lack of Funding, Are Chief Irritants for Superintendents and Principals" Public Agenda Press Release 11/14/2001.