A Powerpoint slide with blue background, the tops of many books line the bottom, and white and yellow script describing the positive aspects of corps members.

Serving Principals and Listening to Their Feedback

Our national principal survey, conducted every two years, helps us to understand how our program is doing. In addition to showing a high level of satisfaction among Teach For America's partner principals, this year's findings lead to some interesting questions.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

This week, our research partners at RAND Corporation are sharing results from the 2015 National Principal Survey. An independent effort commissioned every two years by Teach For America, the survey allows principals the opportunity to provide feedback on the collective performance of TFA first- and second-year teachers (also known as corps members) in their schools.

Principals interview, hire, and rely on our corps members to make a positive impact with their students and in their communities. Principals are essential partners, and what they tell us helps to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of our teachers.

Collaborating with a team at RAND, a leading independent, nonprofit research organization, we worked to overhaul the 2015 National Principal Survey in a few key ways—including paying special attention to the responses of partner principals who are themselves TFA alumni. We hypothesized that alumni principals might respond differently when compared to non-alumni principals given their more intimate understanding of Teach For America and our program model. With 12 percent of responding principals indicating that they are alumni—about 200 of the 1,803 total respondents—we saw an intriguing opportunity to explore our hypothesis. 

With the results in, we have some interesting findings to digest with our colleagues who oversee TFA’s program. Overall, 81 percent of principals expressed satisfaction with the corps members working in their schools, and most principals believe that corps members are making a positive difference across a variety of dimensions, including academic achievement and social-emotional development

Sharif El-Mekki, a principal who has long hired and worked with corps members, also counts TFA alumni as members of his leadership team. In a Top Stories post, he reflects on the contributions they have made to the school he leads in West Philadelphia. “TFA corps members come to us with strong academic skills, a high level of self-efficacy, and an ability to respond quickly to coaching,” he writes. “Moreover, they come to us with the passion and desire to take on the complex and challenging obstacles inherent in underserved communities that can make recruitment and retention difficult.”

Principals also rated TFA teachers highly on a variety of teaching skills, and 87 percent reported that they were satisfied with the support provided by TFA. As for differences between alumni and non-alumni principals, RAND researchers found no significant difference in overall satisfaction rates. However, digging further into the survey illuminates a few thought-provoking sub-findings. Specifically, TFA alumni principals tended to be “tougher graders,” rating corps member abilities and TFA supports lower than non-alumni principals. The study also found that principals with more experience as principals and as teachers tended to rate corps members’ abilities and TFA supports higher than principals with less experience.

As is the case with most research, many of the findings from the 2015 report leave readers with more questions than answers. In addition to what the survey can tell us about how to better meet principals’ needs, research questions that interest us include:

  • How does a principal’s experience as an alumnus of Teach For America influence his or her assessment of the quality of the program and  satisfaction with the performance of current participants? For example, when we recruit corps members, we look for individuals who have high expectations for students and for themselves. Does that translate into higher expectations for the TFA program and participants when alumni become principals?
  • Why might alumni principals rate corps members and the support TFA provides lower, but still report similar levels of overall satisfaction with corps members?

All of these questions deserve further inquiry that will enable us to glean even more valuable information from principal feedback. We are excited to have laid some key groundwork with this study, including improving the study design to allow for comparisons with results of future surveys. For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to compare the 2015 findings to earlier surveys, which have at times found higher levels of overall satisfaction but among a different population of principals.

The National Principal Survey falls within a broader set of work aimed at expanding the breadth and depth of independent research on Teach For America and, by extension, topics of interest to the education community. As an organization that deeply believes in learning and continuous improvement, Teach For America looks forward to reflecting on the 2015 survey findings, acting on them to serve principals and support our teachers, and building on this research in the future.

Learn more about Teach For America’s commitment to research and how to partner with us. 

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