Red Tape Snares School Principals

When government at any level wants to change society, it often targets public school children. And guess who bears the primary burden of making sure any new "mandate" or rule is carried out? Principals and superintendents.

All the red tape and gray bureaucracy required by local, state, and federal governments have made their jobs too complex, cumbersome, and time-consuming, according to a survey by the nonpartisan opinion research group, Public Agenda.

Of course, many new regulations, when considered by themselves, are often deemed necessary. But who's watching out for the cumulative effect of so many rules on school leaders?

The survey found that principals must deal with more than 3,500 pages of education law, such as making sure Freedom Week is celebrated to ensuring the body-mass index of each child is recorded on his or her report card.

It also found that a lessening of bureaucratic burdens is far more important to principals than other issues, such as teacher quality (only 3 percent of both groups cited that as the most pressing issue).

As leaders, principals must be free to be leaders, not swamped by paper. Indeed, in this survey of 1,006 superintendents and 925 principals, the biggest complaint was aimed at the federal paperwork requirements for special education, despite the merits of government meeting that need.

Eighty-three percent of superintendents and 65 percent of principals say "they are obligated to spend a disproportional amount of money and other resources on special education." And many such "mandates" go unfunded.

Most principals have a "can do" attitude toward their jobs. All the more reason to listen to them when they complain that schools are asked to do too much.

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