Md. Board Weighs Alternative Route for Principals

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Maryland would become only the third state to create an alternative route to the certification of principals that would allow non-educators to run schools, under a proposal considered last week by the state board of education.

If the board approves the proposal later this month, it will join New Jersey and West Virginia in having such a provision, according to Scott D. Thomson, a professor of education policy at George Mason University.

The Maryland proposal is opposed by some state education groups, however, which argue that principals who lack education experience will not be effective school leaders.

Other skeptics suggest the plan is not likely to have a significant impact, noting that New Jersey, the pioneer of the idea, has not had any principals follow the new route since it was established in 1988.

The Maryland measure would grant certification to job seekers with an understanding of curriculum development and instructional processes, leadership experience, and familiarity with education issues.

But unlike the traditional certification route, the proposed alternative would not require teaching experience, said Ronald A. Peiffer, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.

The route was proposed to allow individuals with strengths not necessarily related to education administration to take over schools that require those skills, Mr. Peiffer said. For instance, he said, the process would open principalships to applicants with business-management experience or, in the case of a science or technology magnet school, to experts in those fields.

An alternative appointment would be for one year at one school and would have to be renewed annually.

Educators from state and national groups reacted to the hearing last week with dismay. "If you're going to be the instructional leader of a school, you need to have walked in the shoes of the people you're trying to lead," said James Dryden, president-elect of the Maryland Council of Education Administrators.

Similar opposition was voiced in New Jersey when the law first was passed. Since then, though, the new route has proved ineffectual, Mr. Thomson said.

School-board members in New Jersey have feared that if an alternatively certified principal could not do the job, they would suffer politically, Mr. Thomson observed.

To date, no principals have been hired through that route, said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

In contrast, a West Virginia alternative-certification process for all school administrators, put in effect this June, has opened up a flood gate of interest, said Howard Kardatzke, director of professional education for the state education department.

But virtually all the applicants for the alternative route have come from within the education profession, taking advantage of laxer degree requirements.

Since July, the state has received 4,573 applications for administrator certification, Mr. Kardatzke said, compared with 84 applications in the same period last year.

Vol. 11, Issue 10, Page 18

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