Education is a profession that is supposed to be about nurturing, developing, helping, supporting, and building not only intellectual competence but affective qualities. Race to the Top, with its harsh and punitive approach to school reform, ruined the lives and careers of many dedicated educators. Many were harmed, not only children, who were tested endlessly, but teachers and principals who were unjustly fired.

What happened to the principals who were fired because their school had low test scores? Carole Meyer of Washington State was one of them. She was fired in 2010 because her school was among the lowest performing in the state. She decided to write a dissertation about what happened to her and others similarly placed. She interviewed six other principals who were fired in 2010. She earned her doctorate. She is now a principal in a middle school that she has led successfully for the past five years. Her dissertation can be found here:

The title of her dissertation is “School Principals’ Reassignment Under Race to the Top Legislation: Washington State Principals’ Sense Making and Affective Experience”

She writes:

The purpose of this qualitative interview study was to explore how K-12 public school principals in Washington State “made sense” of the experience of being reassigned under the provisions of Washington State’s version of RTTT.

The research questions this study attempted to answer were:

(a) How do principals describe what happened when they were reassigned?

(b) How did principals work with staff, students, district, and community around the issue of being reassigned?

(c) How did reassignment impact principals emotionally, personally, and professionally?

(d) What are principals’ evaluations of this type of policy approach?

And (e) What were the human costs/benefits associated with reassignment?

Conceptual frames related to human costs (Rice & Malen, 2003), sensemaking (Weick, 1995, 2005, & 2007), and Kübler-Ross’s Grief Construct (1969) were used to guide the study. Extensive in-depth interviews were conducted with six selected principal participants to explore their experiences of reassignment.

The major themes that emerged from the data analysis were (a) costs of reassignment associated with RTTT policy implementation, (b) principal critique of this type of policy approach, and (c) the sensemaking journey of each principal impacted by reassignment. This study found that reassignment had substantial impacts on principals, their critiques of the policy included: (a) unintended consequences; (b) the number of years required to successfully turn around a low-performing school; (c) lack of alignment with good practice in schools; (d) SIG grants’ failure to demonstrate notable benefits to students; (e) the mistake of funding education through competitive means; and (f) the importance of political action and principal “voice” in shaping education policy.

However, over time, the participants were able to resume a sense of normalcy in their work.

The following four major conclusions from this study can be stated: (a) RTTT is a draconian approach to education reform and its costs outweigh the benefits; (b) RTTT policy’s restrictive requirements were seen as unfair and left little choice for districts; (c) principal “voice” is a critical component in education reform; and (d) conceptual frames of Rice and Malen (2003), Weick (1995, 2005, & 2007), and the Kübler-Ross Grief Construct (1969) describe participant’s experiences.