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New Curriculum Seeks To Update Principal Training

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The National Policy Board for Educational Administration last week released a comprehensive program for the preparation of school principals, marking the culmination of three years of research on the knowledge and skills required to lead contemporary schools.

The 570-page document was designed as "a new structure by which to organize the principalship,'' Scott D. Thomson, the executive secretary of the board and the editor of the curriculum, said in an interview.

"This is the only place, that I'm aware of, that you can get a single description of what principals need to know and need to be able to do'' in the 1990's, he said.

The N.P.B.E.A., which was formed in 1988, is made up of 10 major education associations. The board's mission is to develop national standards for administrators and to narrow the "clinical gap'' between theory and practice in preparation programs.

The new curriculum, entitled "Principals for Our Changing Schools: The Knowledge and Skills Base,'' takes as its departure point 21 performance "domains'' identified in 1990 by the National Commission for the Principalship. The domains are the key behaviors, skills, and areas of knowledge that provide the foundation for the principalship. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

The plan released last week was designed by 16 writing teams under the guidance of the N.P.B.E.A. More than 100 principals, professors of education, and private-sector training officials were involved in the effort, which was financed by grants from the Danforth and Geraldine R. Dodge foundations and the Lilly Endowment.

The board is marketing the curriculum to principals' centers and associations, departments of educational leadership, and the superintendents of the nation's largest school districts, Mr. Thomson said. It will also be distributed to the chief state school officers and the governors' education advisers.

"This can be used by school districts for in-service education, by professors to teach, and by licensure bodies to design higher standards,'' Mr. Thomson said.

"They may add to, or subtract from, the package,'' he said, "but it would be a good foundation to work from.''

David Imig, the executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, expressed a similar view.

"What this does is set a template,'' said Mr. Imig, whose group is a member association of the policy board. "It's a set of criteria against which [university departments of educational administration] can measure their own programs.''

Breaking Tradition

The document identifies skills that have not typically been taught in administrator-training programs, according to Mr. Thomson.

"Basically, our argument is that much of the knowledge and skills [principals need] are not taught in traditional programs--instructional skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills,'' he said. "They are almost entirely overlooked.''

"Today,'' he said, "you have to understand not just what a principal does, but how a principal does it.''

Dramatic changes in the school environment mean that "40 percent to 50 percent of what principals do they probably weren't doing 20 years ago,'' Mr. Thomson suggested. Yet departments of educational administration have been slow to adapt training programs for a new breed of administrator, he said.

"The theoretical models [in education] and the real world have become more and more dissimilar,'' he maintained.

To narrow the gap, the new curriculum encourages practical experience--internships, simulations, clinical instruction, and problem-solving--in preparing school leaders.

"The theoretical model has a place ... but we need more [training] in the school,'' Mr. Thomson argued.

Under decentralized school systems, for example, many schools now provide a form of "one-stop shopping'' for a variety of services. This model, Mr. Thomson noted, has created a need for principals with strong leadership and problem-solving skills to guide them in making a broad range of decisions.

Form and Function

The first seven "domains'' of the curriculum are functional. They describe "the organizational processes and techniques by which the mission of the school is achieved.''

Leadership, the first of these, explains how principals can shape a school culture, develop a shared strategic vision among the staff and students, and make school improvements.

Mr. Thomson described this skill as a building-block for school leaders. Administrators "are expected to be more collegial and collaborative and have strong communication and leadership skills,'' he said.

But, as this set of domains suggests, principals must be problem-solvers as well.

For instance, Mr. Thomson said, the tide of violence in schools requires that principals be equipped with "the skills to anticipate problems before they become a crisis.''

Programs and Personal Skills

Programmatic domains, the second group in the series, describe the scope of a school's educational program. This includes the use of technology, instruction, and related support services.

These domains define the principal's role in collaborating with teachers and guiding students.

"Principals are now very accountable for student outcomes,'' Mr. Thomson pointed out. "They must know teaching and learning, as well as designing and evaluating a curriculum.''

Under this group of domains, the importance of budgeting and financial-management skills is also emphasized.

"Site-based management holds principals accountable for the operation of school programs and the allocation of resources,'' the document notes. Principals must not only be able to tie expenditures to program objectives, it says, but also to explain financial decisions to the community.

Interpersonal skills, the third set of domains, outlines the strong "people skills'' principals must hone in order to fulfill the goals of other domains. Many preparation programs have overlooked these basic skills, according to Mr. Thomson.

Yet without the ability to connect with staff members, students, and parents through oral and written communication, he observed, principals "cannot bring about change.''

In Context

The "world of ideas and forces in which the school operates'' is the subject of the fourth set of domains covered by the policy board's curriculum. These "contextual'' domains describe the profound impact that philosophical and cultural values, politics, and laws and regulations have on the schools.

To some extent, administrators must learn to maneuver among these forces as "effective public-relations specialists,'' Mr. Thomson said. "You have to be able to influence and respond to the media.''

Each section of the curriculum describes not only why principals should focus on the domains, but how they can achieve the skills described.

In addition to AACTE, the groups constituting the policy board are: the American Association of School Administrators, the Association of School Business Officials, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration, the National School Boards Association, and the University Council for Educational Administration.

Copies of the loose-leaf document can be obtained for $35 each, plus $3.50 for shipping and handling, from the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, Va. 22030-4444; (703) 993-3644.

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