Overhaul Plan on Administrative Standards Debated
Charlottesville, Va--Educators and policymakers meeting here last week displayed sharp differences of opinion over many aspects of a new proposal for reforming the preparation of school administrators.
But they appeared to be unanimously in accord with its central conclusion--that major changes are needed in a field described by one participant as being "in a sorry state."
The meeting was called to consider sweeping revisions recommended in a report issued last month by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, a group representing the leading national administrative organizations. (See Education Week, May 24, 1989.)
The report, which recommended new standards for the selection, training, and assessment of prospective administrators, was intended to be a "catalyst for change," explained David L. Clark, executive secretary of the board.
The conference offered evidence that the report has at least been a catalyst for debate, both about the document itself and about the future of educational administration.
Some participants expressed concern that the board had presented the report in an apparently finished form without seeking broader comment on its proposals. Others said it was impossible to consider ways to implement the report, as those here were asked to do, without a full discussion of its suggestions.
And several participants said the report lacked a clear focus.
"Is the problem here one of screening out poor practitioners or of trying to attract very good practitioners?" asked Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "I don't see how one can construct changes unless you have a sense of which is the bigger problem."
Moreover, some here questioned a fundamental proposition underlying the report--that future administrators will be educational leaders.
Given the national movement by teachers for more influence over school decisionmaking, that role is very much in doubt, said Dale Mann of Teachers College, Columbia University.
"The administrators have been confined to business and support functions," in most discussions of school reform, he noted.
One of the most controversial elements of the report proved to be its proposal that prospective administrators be required to earn a doctorate in educational administration. As part of the doctoral program, candidates would have to spend a year as full-time students and complete a year-long internship in a school.
The policy board portrayed the mandate as essential to reinvigorating programs now widely seen as haphazard and undemanding. The doctoral requirement would represent a return to a "classical model" of professional preparation similar to that of medicine and law, the report says.
The recommendation had run into resistance even before last week's meeting. In a statement released after the report was unveiled, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos urged board members to "take another look at their call for mandating education doctorates."
"As a strong supporter of alternative routes to certification, I believe our priorities should be on skill and dedication rather than courses and diplomas," Mr. Cavazos continued.
A number of conference participants also expressed the concern that doctoral programs would be expensive and impractical for mid-career professionals.
"How realistic is it to expect our people to take a two-year residency without some decent financial support in mid-career?" asked Samuel G. Sava, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Mr. Sava added that his organization also questioned the need for a doctorate at the elementary level.
In North Carolina, which recently created a new doctoral program for school administrators, educators8have asked the legislature to appropriate money for a "resident scholar" fund for public-school employees.
The money would be an "insurance policy" to protect the $800 million appropriated four years ago for school reform, said Donald Stedman, associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina.
The report's call for higher entrance standards for doctoral candidates also generated considerable debate. The document suggests assessing prospective administrators' analytical ability and management aptitude through a standardized national test. Only applicants scoring in the top 25 percent should be admitted to the programs, it says.
At the same time, it calls on administrative-training programs to increase their enrollment of minority candidates to levels comparable to the percentage of minority students in their region.
Some participants suggested that the two goals may conflict. Use of a "paper and pencil test is going to work against many minorities," warned James Keefe, director of research for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "We may open ourselves up to a charge of racial bias."
The report also maintains that doctoral candidates should be required to have teaching experience--a requirement with which some here disagreed.
"I don't buy that every administrator should come out of the classroom," said William L. Lepley, Iowa's director of education. "A superintendent can be a leader without being a teacher-leader."
After a day of intensive small-group discussions of the proposals, conference participants turned to making specific suggestions for implementing the reform plan. Among the ideas with broad support were:
- Establishing task forces to define further the proposed curriculum for school administrators and to specify how better relationships can be established between school districts and universities.
- Encouraging the board to work with states to develop support for funding administrative training.
- Holding regional meetings to explain and promote the proposals.