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States, Colleges Heeding Call To Improve Administrators' Training

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Responding to calls for an overhaul in the way school administrators are trained, an increasing number of states and universities are attempting to revitalize the academic programs that prepare principals and superintendents.

Such changes are necessary, experts in educational administration argue, to make programs more coherent and relevant to practitioners in the schools.

"The pressure is on," said Bruce J. Anderson, vice president of the Danforth Foundation and the director of a program to encourage changes in universities' school-leadership programs. "The reform and restructuring of these programs is part of the next wave of educational change."

Experts point to several developments as evidence that the shortcomings in preparation programs are getting new attention:

  • In North Carolina, statewide guidelines have been developed for a doctoral program for school leaders that focuses on practicing administrators, not on researchers.
  • The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is drafting regulations to implement the recommendations of a state-level task force that examined the problems of attracting, retaining, and training school administrators.
  • A growing number of postsecondary institutions--including Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan., and Eastern Illinois University in Charleston--are designing rigorous new programs.
  • The Danforth Foundation, through a program it began in 1987, continues to channel grants to universities to experiment with changes in both the curriculum and design of their administration programs. So far, faculties in departments of educational administration at 17 schools have received help through the Program for Professors of School Administration.

Still, while there is new evidence that progress is being made in addressing some of the chronic problems that plague administration programs, few people are satisfied with what has been accomplished to date.

"There is still a lot of dialogue going on, but a lot of action is needed," said Rodney Muth, a professor of educational administration at Wichita State. "There are still just instances and cases of reform."

Calls for Change

During the past several years, training programs for administrators have been criticized for encouraging students to accumulate an incoherent sequence of course credits, and for being too theoretical and removed from the day-to-day problems of the schools. (See Education Week, March 11, 1987.)

Focusing attention on such shortcomings, the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration called in 1987 for major changes in the way administrators are educated, regulated, evaluated, and supervised. (See Education Week, March 18, 1987.)

"One thing that is very different now from when the national commission published its report is that almost all faculty and deans of education appear to be convinced that there is substantial reform necessary," said Patrick B. Forsyth, executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration. The commission was established by the u.c.e.a., a consortium of 50 leading research institutions offering doctoral programs in school leadership.

In 1988, acting on a recommendation of the commission, 10 major education organizations concerned with school leadership came together to form the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Its major goal is the establishment of a professional organization to offer national certification to administrators.

The board's "Agenda for Reform," released last year, called for a return to a "classical model" of extended university study to prepare administrators. But its recommendation that all candidates for national certification be required to hold a doctorate was sharply criticized.

Last week, policy-board members drafted a new "statement of purpose'' modifying several of its initial recommendations. The policy board is now contemplating issuing both entry-level and advanced certificates. Only candidates for advanced recognition would be required to have a doctorate.

But while the debate over how best to prepare school administrators continues, there is increasing evidence of reform at the institutional and state levels.

North Carolina Guidelines

In North Carolina, the state university system provided the impetus for strengthening the professional preparation of administrators.

Members of a task force studying teacher education heard so many comments about administrators that they recommended that the university system next turn its attention to designing a new course of study for school leaders.

That suggestion eventually led to the development of statewide guidelines for a doctoral program aimed at preparing practicing administrators.

The study committee charged with developing the guidelines arrived at a framework that will allow institutions some flexibility, according to Donald J. Stedman, associate vice president for academic affairs for the University of North Carolina.

Six state institutions have prepared proposals to offer doctoral programs based on the new guidelines. A national review panel will examine the proposals and recommend to the board of governors of the university system whether to approve them.

Program participants will be required to undergo at least three years of post-baccalaureate study--including a year of full-time study in residence and a year of supervised internship.

The guidelines also include the use of a "cohort training format" that groups entering students together to encourage them to build professional relationships, and a required core of courses for all students. In addition, students will be encouraged to use research and inquiry methods that will be helpful to them as practicing administrators.

Since few mid-career professionals can afford to take a year off from their jobs to pursue a doctorate, the state of North Carolina will provide fellowships. Under the program, each student is to receive half his salary and full tuition from the state.

The legislature has appropriated $800,000 for fellowships for the first students who will enter the new programs this fall, Mr. Stedman said. Eventually, the state system hopes to admit about 120 students a year, providing fellowships for each, he added.

"We're getting away from the part-time doctorate business," Mr. Stedman said. "I think that's a lot fairer. These people are going to get a much better education."

North Carolina chose not to limit admission to the new programs to candidates with either a master'sdegree or previous teaching experience, Mr. Stedman noted.

The decision was based on the state's desire to "expand the pool" of potential administrators, Mr. Stedman said.

And while a doctoral degree will not be required for state licensure, the state board of education will automatically license graduates of the doctoral programs to eliminate duplication of effort, Mr. Stedman said.

Wisconsin Regulations

In Wisconsin, the education department is drafting regulations to put in place the recommendations of a state task force that studied the problems of school administration.

B. Dean Bowles, a professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a staff member for the task force, described Wisconsin's efforts as an attempt to address the issues "from top to bottom," instead of from a "courses and credits" perspective.

With that frame of reference, the panel examined such topics as state licensing policies, factors affecting job security, and the differences in salaries between experienced teachers and entry-level administrators.

It recommended that state-approved preparation programs develop a common core of coursework for all administrators, with additional specific courses for each type of administrative license.

The task force also suggested that each candidate for an administrative license be assessed for leadership potential and complete an unpaid practicum or, if possible, a paid internship.

And it recommended that candidates for final state licensure complete an induction program during their first year of employment that would include both the support of mentor administrators and evaluation.

Universities Respond

One school that has responded to the clamor for improvement in training programs is Eastern Illinois University, a former "normal school" that has proposed creating a new doctoral program to prepare practicing administrators.

The doctorate would include a year of full-time study on campus, a yearlong internship, and an emphasis on solving real-world school problems, according to Robert L. Kindrick, the school's vice president for academic affairs.

The university, which must receive state approval for the doctorate, believes the program would differ significantly from the research-oriented doctorates offered by other state institutions in Illinois, Mr. Kindrick said.

"We do not intend to threaten other [Illinois] institutions," he added. "We're most interested in producing people to go out there in the districts and do what needs to be done."

The school also is exploring ways to finance fellowships to make the prolonged study possible, including partnerships with local school districts.

Mr. Muth and his colleagues at Wichita State have also proposed creating a new terminal-degree program for school administrators. Like the proposal under consideration for Eastern Illinois, it closely follows the recommendation of the national policy board.

Most universities do not currently reward efforts to encourage faculty members to forge closer links with practicing school administrators, Mr. Muth noted.

"Professors teach classes, do their research, have office hours, and go home," he said. "If you run professional-practice-oriented programs, you have to relate to your clients in different ways."

Wichita State's proposal is now before the state board of regents for review.

David L. Clark, a professor of educational administration at the University of Virginia who until recently served as executive secretary of the policy board, said schools that are starting rigorous new programs are hoping that "the good money will drive out the bad money" that flows from programs that simply generate income for the university.

"Schools are always afraid that the flow of students will be disrupted by institutions that lower their standards, not the institutions that raise them," he noted. "The real threat is going to come from institutions that raise them."

'Making a Difference'

Some of the curricular changes now under way are more radical than others.

At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for example, professors were not content to continue teaching the conventional wisdom about leadership and management. Instead, they embarked on a search for ways to bring different perspectives about power and human relationships into the curriculum.

With the help of the Danforth Foundation, Miami has created a radically new curriculum for a doctorate degree in administration that it will begin offering this fall.

"Our sense is, if you simply take the present programs and reorganize the courses or add field experiences, you still have the same program," said Nelda Cambron-McCabe, chairman of the university's department of educational leadership.

"We've been looking at the question of what we can put in place to make a difference," she said, "and not just replicate the status quo."

The teaching of such alternative concepts of leadership in administration programs has been "piecemeal, depending on who's teaching," noted Mr. Forsyth of the u.c.e.a.

But the content of the curricula in administration programs will be ''the next big issue for us," he predicted.

Both the national commission and the national policy board tackled the issue of what should be taught.

Commission members were unable to reach an agreement and dropped the issue, Mr. Forsyth said, while the policy board's recommendations have been called too broad.

Miami University's new doctorate is built on the premise that administrators must be taught to achieve "just" and democratic schools, not just effective ones that produce good workers.

A new core of three seminar courses has been designed to give administrators "a deep understanding of the cultural, social, and moral forces which organize and direct schools, as well as the technical expertise to keep a state bureaucratic organization working," according to an article on the program written by Ms. Cambron-McCabe and two colleagues.

Among the program's aims are to teach students to view schools as"theaters of possibility and pedagogy as a vehicle for societal change," the paper states.

The doctoral students will be encouraged to conduct research that will be "helpful to the reflective practitioner without burdening students with a meaningless task."

Association Activity

Spurred by the work of the national policy board, professional associations also are addressing the question of school leadership.

The University Council for Educational Administration has adopted a ''statement of beliefs" about the preparation of administrators that closely follows the policy board's agenda.

And the issue is coming to the fore for the 122 institutions that make up the Association of Colleges and Schools of Education in State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and Affiliated Private Universities.

The land-grant deans plan to move the question of administrators' preparation to the top of the organization's agenda, according to Donald W. Robinson, president of the organization and dean of the school of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Mr. Forsyth said the UCEA., which is revising its membership criteria, may require its member institutions to demonstrate that they are putting adequate resources into their administration programs. If they cannot, he said, they may be dropped from the UCEA.

"To maintain your reputation as a prestigious organization, you have to show that your membership has some kind of meaning," Mr. Forsyth said. "We know things now we didn't know 10 years ago."

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