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Overhaul Urged In the Preparation Of Administrators

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State education agencies should seize the lead in coordinating the efforts of institutions and groups involved in the training, certification, and career development of educational administrators, a report released last week concludes.

The five "stakeholders'' active in preparing and supporting school leaders--state agencies, universities, school districts, professional organizations, and other groups such as principals' centers and unions--often duplicate one another's efforts or develop programs at cross purposes, the report by the National Association of Secondary School Principals says.

It argues that state education departments "are logical catalysts'' in building a consensus among these players on standards and programs for administrators.

"We think state agencies are in the best position to convene the groups,'' James W. Keefe, NASSP's director of research and the report's principal author, said in an interview.

"They can take a proactive role,'' he added, in organizing statewide or regional conferences for groups that train administrators, employ graduates of training programs, offer professional seminars, license practitioners, and accredit programs.

"It's beyond the time that all these players begin talking to each other in a systematic way,'' he said.

The report recommends that the stakeholders seek agreement on a set of "irreducible minimums in professional preparation and in-service development'' that can provide a foundation for their state's programs.

These principles, it says, would define the basic task of each stakeholder in creating "a seamless path'' for prospective and working administrators.

'Ad Hoc' Preparation

Scott D. Thomson, the executive secretary of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, a privately organized group that is working to develop a national certification process for school leaders, said he agrees that the state superintendent of education or state education department should play a central role in setting the agenda for the various stakeholders.

"The problem now is that the standards in many states are weak,'' Mr. Thomson said. Aspiring principals and other school leaders take "a series of ad hoc courses,'' he said.

"The bottom line is what the certification requirements are going to be,'' Mr. Thomson said. "The states need to concentrate on what principals need to know and what they need to be able to do in the 1990's.''

Ramsay Selden, the director of the state education-assessment center at the Council of Chief State School Officers, said he was "enthusiastic'' about the coordinating role for state education agencies espoused in the NASSP report.

Mr. Selden said that "most states do feel a responsibility for policies affecting the training and development of principals.''

And state agencies and officials are likely to already have experience in coordinating preparation and certification programs for teachers, he pointed out.

Tennessee Initiative

According to Mr. Thomson, who is a former executive director of NASSP, and Mr. Keefe, several states have developed pilot programs that encourage more cooperation between the stakeholders.

In Tennessee, for example, the state board of education has taken an aggressive approach toward reforming administrator preparation.

Kenneth Nye, a research associate with the board, said Tennessee forged a plan in 1991 for school systems and universities "to work together as early as training and into professional development.''

"We set 15 knowledge and skill statements that parallel the [21 performance] domains set by the National Policy Board [for Educational Administration],'' Mr. Nye noted.

The state passed new licensure requirements, which will be phased in by 1994.

Better Communication in Maine

Though a state agency was not the driving force, groups involved in school-leadership programs in Maine convened in 1989 to examine their respective efforts, according to the NASSP report.

"We invited groups from all the constituent organizations for three-day retreats,'' Gordon Donaldson, one of the organizers of the meeting, said in an interview. Mr. Donaldson, a professor of education at the University of Maine at Orono, said at least half of the participants were principals and vocational administrators.

Although the state officials who attended the meeting did not take a leadership role, he added, they paid for the meetings and were supportive of new ideas that emerged in the sessions.

"The result of this was very pleasing,'' Mr. Donaldson said. "It was amazing to see how people were able to put political considerations aside and build a consensus of what needs to be done.''

Maine's stakeholders met again in 1991 for a follow-up meeting and are likely to meet again this year, he said. The meetings have resulted in a marked increase in communication between the groups, according to Mr. Donaldson, but he said he had hoped for more guidance from the state and the legislature.

Other Groups Take Lead

Mr. Thomson pointed out that in several states, organizations outside the state education department have been successful in coordinating the activities of the stakeholders.

"Not all state agencies operate in the same manner,'' added Penny Early, the senior director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "There could be a political mix in some states where other'' stakeholders might be in a better position to take the lead, she said.

In California, for instance, according to the NASSP report, the Association of California School Administrators is in the process of defining a new preparation program with the help of the university community and the State Credentialing Commission.

The Massachusetts Elementary School Principals' Association was also active in gaining approval of a certification program for administrators in that state in 1991.

Streamlining the System

In North Carolina, meanwhile, the state legislature has developed an integrated approach to preparing administrators based on the recommendations of an independent educational-leadership task force.

According to Jim Watts, an education specialist for the legislature, the plan would reduce university training programs by at least 50 percent, thereby streamlining the system and discouraging the duplication of efforts.

"We're looking for more efficient, cost-effective pre-service training,'' Mr. Watts explained.

Under the plan, which was approved by the task force last week and is to be submitted to the legislature next month, state universities that train administrators would have to reapply to continue in that role, according to Mr. Watts.

The institutions would be selected if they met standards proposed by professional groups and local school systems.

The package also provides for in-service programs linked with licensure, a fellows program for principals, and a professional-standards board that would administer an examination similar to that given by the state bar association, Mr. Watts said.

"This was an attempt to bring some coherence to all of this,'' he said.

State Master Plans

Mr. Thomson of the national policy board suggested that improved coordination of administrator programs could result in "more performance-based programs and higher standards.''

The new report's recommendations, added Mr. Keefe of NASSP, should "move people in the direction of being responsible for a profession.''

To that end, the secondary school principals' group plans to distribute the report to all of its state affiliates, with the aim of spurring those organizations to persuade their state education departments, or other stakeholders, to convene meetings of the different entities involved.

The report suggests that officials use such meetings to design and implement a state master plan for pre-service and professional development that would "delineate the principles, roles, responsibilities, and quality guarantees for the stakeholders.''

Copies of the report, "Developing School Leaders: A Call for Collaboration,'' can be obtained for $6 each from Publications/Sales, National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1904 Association Dr., Reston, Va. 22901-1537; (800) 253-7746.

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