School Leaders Speak Out Again

November 19, 2003

School superintendents and principals nationwide voice their objections to stifling bureaucracy and a torrent of local, state and federal government mandates, in the second of two surveys conducted by the nonpartisan opinion research group Public Agenda.

In Rolling Up Their Sleeves: Superintendents and Principals Talk About What's Needed to Fix Public Schools, more than 1,000 public school superintendents and 925 public school principals talked about the challenges and obstacles to being effective in their jobs.

“Give us more freedom, remove some of the hurdles, and we can do the job,” the report states.

The research, funded by The Wallace Foundation, shows the majority of school leaders say their district has experienced “an enormous increase in responsibilities and mandates without getting the resources necessary to fulfill them.” While high percentages of superintendents and principals believe that the era of testing and accountability is here to stay, most see the federal No Child Left Behind legislation as an “unfunded mandate” and believe it “will require many adjustments before it can work.”

“It is remarkable how deeply standards and accountability are now embedded in the attitudes of school leaders,” stated Public Agenda President Ruth A. Wooden. “But it is hard to overestimate the intense frustration these leaders feel about obstacles thrown in front of them from every direction. American principals and superintendents are a ‘can do’ group. Removing even a few of the most intrusive and annoying obstacles would go a long way.”

“The significance of this report is clear,” said Wallace Foundation President M. Christine DeVita. “Our nation needs both capable school leaders and the right conditions – redefined jobs to reflect new responsibilities, the authority to match those responsibilities, and incentives to attract them to the most challenging schools and districts – to help them deliver on the promise of excellence and opportunity for all children.”