Leadership for Charter Schools

Dec 7, 2012 by

Dr. Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor, University Wisconsin, Milwaukee , Author of “Star” Teachers Serving Children In Poverty,(1995) Star Teachers: the Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers Serving Children and Youth in Poverty, Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc (2005) reprint 2009,2011,2012 and Star Principals Serving Children in Poverty (1999), Kappa Delta Pi, Publisher, answers questions in a personal interview requested by KIPP  Leaders.

The KIPP Foundation’s school leaders and teachers  has been incredibly enriched as a result of their long-time professional relationship with the Haberman Educational Foundation over the last six years.  During this time period over 200 KIPP school leaders and aspiring KIPP school leaders have had the opportunity to be acquainted with the Star Teacher Selection Interview protocol.  More importantly they have incorporated the Star Teacher Interview as a integral part of their school hiring process.

In addition, over the last ten years 400 KIPP school leaders and teacher leaders have had an opportunity to participate in the National-Louis University and KIPP Educational Leadership Graduate Program.  One of the important highlights of the program is a month of devoted professional readings of Martin Haberman and the opportunity to engage in professional learning activities through the Star Teacher Book Club.  At the conclusion of the book study, all participants in the NLU/KIPP school leadership program listen to an in-depth professional interview (recorded live) with Dr. Haberman conducted by Linda Belans, Senior Director of KIPP Leadership Coaching.   The interview is framed around critical inquiry, connections, and reflections that has emerged as a result of the month of intensive study of Dr. Haberman’s professional writings.

Richard Streedain and Mark Larson , Co-Directors of National Louis University / KIPP Education Leadership Graduate Program (2011)

 1. Define “Educational Leader”

Haberman: A leader in democratic society helps  people  demand what is in their own best interest. An educational leader, working with all the constituencies that make up a school community, helps them create a common vision and the means for realizing that vision.

2. What are the administrators greatest challenges in the future?

Haberman: An administrator is not necessarily a leader as defined above. An administrator is the officially designated head of something, e.g a school. S/he may  or may not be a leader. If in this  question you are asking about the educational leader’s greatest challenge I would say the following. All of the constituent groups have somewhat different agendas and perceptions of what a good school would accomplish, how it is organized, how it  is evaluated, who should be involved in making decisions, etc. The leaders greatest challenge is getting these  divergent groups to share a common vision and then to work together to achieve it. The second greatest challenge is securing and maintaining sufficient funding to do everything that is needed and desirable. The third is implementing a real system of accountability so that everyone involved is responsible for real learning outcomes for the students. Accountability must include consequences as well as rewards for individuals who are not productive. Fourth, making certain that the teachers hired and retained are outstanding teachers with knowledge of their subjects and the ability to relate to the students; that teachers who are not outstanding are never hired or not retained.

3.      Advice to an administrator with “visionary” ideas. Haberman: See question #2 above. In addition, it is imperative that certain management matters be taken care of.

For example,
-building safety
-providing conducive work  places for children and teachers
-meeting fire codes
-meeting health and sanitation codes
-providing insurance coverage
-equipment and materials
– a lawyer or law firm on retainer
– a financial officer to manage budget
– an organization with clear decision making lines of authority. Precisely who can tell  who to do what and by whose authority?
– a job description for every employee full  or part time
– a thorough  and complete system for dealing with students with handicapping conditions. Federal and state mandates must all be implemented.
– a system for dealing  with  employees, including teachers, who may have handicapping conditions
-a system for connecting with health and human  service providers who are servicing the students and their families.
-a system of  priorities  to guide specific  decisions on what type of teacher or specialist will be hired next as programs expand.
-a thorough ongoing system of complete evaluation so that all  aspects of student learning are assessed annually.
-a clear set of written  policies  for  transferring in and out of the school
-a clear set of policies on suspensions and  expulsions.
-a clear set of policies on grading, promotion and retention
-a staff handbook  that provides these and other answers to the staff
-a parent handbook  that is written in clear, jargon-free English to answer parents’ questions on these and other matters.
-a system of student transportation that is clear to all
-a system of  transportation that is clear to staff regarding field trips,  etc.
-a building with capacity for computers and related technical needs
-a clear policy statement of how various religious holidays will be handled
-a clear and  open salary schedule  for teachers
-a clear and open  salary schedule  for administrators
-a clear and open salary schedule for staff
-a system of professional development for all staff
-a set of written documents teacher contracts disclaimers which protect the school from lawsuits all written forms that teachers and  staff will be expected to complete school  report cards or some other system for reporting to  parents that will be used for school records what will be transferred to other schools what is confidential policies for determining who can see what and under what conditions –

I could go on and give you another  thirty five but the point I would make is that being a “visionary” will only be useful  after you have ensured that you can take care of  all the management issues that cause schools and principals  to fail.

4.      How can visionary leaders impact the field of education?

Haberman: a. If by “impact the field” you mean scholars in universities I don’t believe there are any because what is happening in universities  and  colleges has no impact whatever on the schools of the nation.  If by “impact the field” you mean  what is happening in schools there are a great many who impact the field but they are largely people working locally without national reputations. Star teachers and principals are all over the country creating successful schools  within failed districts. I learn from these  unsung heroes by meeting them in various places or by visiting them.

b. Why?

Haberman: The reason for this is that schooling remains an essentially local affair where the unit of analysis is the school  building

5.      What is right about the American educational system? 

1. The top ten percent are getting world  class educations.

2. Girls as well as boys attend school  and except for math  and science have equal opportunity.

3. The higher education system is sufficiently open and varied to account for almost anyone who wants post-secondary education.

4. The public, including people without children in school, are taxed.

5. There are compulsory education laws and minimum ages for quitting.

6. There are federal,  state and local laws which generally safeguard health and safety.

7. There is a constant public debate about how to improve quality.

8.  Adults  of any age have access to continuing education.

9. Instructional technology and learning systems are widespread.

10. The system produces  the top researchers in the world in almost every field.

   What is wrong?


1.      Diverse children in poverty do not have access to equal educational  opportunity.

2.      Local districts which are enclaves of ignorance can still prevent the teaching of science and foreign  languages.

3.      Teacher certification is assumed by state laws to  assure teacher quality.

4.      Over half  the states still enable corporal punishment at local district discretion.

5.      Schools  of education in universities still focus on preparing young, white, monolingual girls as teachers.

6.      There is no system of accountability for success or failure.

7.      There is no agreed-upon knowledge base for what teachers need to know and be able to do.

8.      Exploding health care costs for educators  and  staff are sopping up the funds that should  be used  for educational  purposes.

9.      Successful” students who graduate from high school  and college know >very little.

10.  The education of those with handicapping conditions is an extremely expensive failure.  

6.    How should future leaders plan  to create a dynamic education system in the United States?

Haberman: Future leaders cannot create such a system. The system is already “dynamic” in that it responds to all sorts of change in the society. The problem is  that a great deal of this dynamism has negative consequences. Education reflects society it does not change it.

7.      Who is your role model and why?

Haberman: My role models  are unknowns who affect change in  the variety of  bureaucracies that impinge on people’s right to learn and grow. These are individuals  who change the rules in a state department of education, the central  office of a school district, the graduate school  of a university.  They are largely unknown and unsung but the results of their efforts are to increase  equity and access for others.

Thank you, Martin Haberman

You can learn more about The Haberman Educational Foundation,Inc,  and the on-line  test for teachers and principals based on Haberman’s research at: http://www.habermanfoundation.org

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