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Hold school chiefs acountable

July 18, 2006

Improve those grades or you'll be held back for another year.

Parents have been saying that to their children since the first one-room schoolhouse opened in the United States.

But what if students' poor performance could cost school superintendents and principals their jobs?

It's not likely to happen this year, but as Martha Raffaele, Pennsylvania state capital correspondent for The Associated Press reported this week, Gov. Ed Rendell is unlikely to give up on the idea.

We agree with the idea, because, although it does impinge on school boards' authority, it would also prevent them from being sued by an ousted administrator.

That's because it would remove subjective decisions from the process. Either the targets would be met or they wouldn't.

As proposed, the idea would require administrators to sign contracts lasting up to five years in which the targets would be spelled out.

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Those who didn't agree with such a system would be free to seek employment in another state's school system.

If that sounds heartless, consider this: Under the federal No Child Left Behind act, the sanctions on school systems that don't improve the performance of every child will be harsh. The governor is suggesting that the school districts get serious now, before the feds arrive with a whip.

However, we do agree with some of the critics' concerns about linking the administrators' fate only to standardized test scores.

For example, a principal whose ideas for improving performance were rejected by his or her superintendent would face a choice between insubordination and unemployment.

Superintendents should bear the weight under this proposal, because ultimately, they are in charge. And, unlike principals, superintendents aren't tenured and already work under contracts. For them, this would just be a new wrinkle in an old process.

Principals got an incentive to improve tests scores with the bonus program passed this year. Firing them over what may be their superintendent's fault would be taking the governor's good idea onek step too far.

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