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Officials Begin Setting Standards for Principals

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Reston, Va.

Inspired in part by national efforts to set standards in teacher certification and in curricula, officials from 37 state education departments and licensing boards met here this month to begin developing common standards for licensing principals.

The meeting, sponsored by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, was the first of its kind for state officials and others who train, license, and support principals, according to Scott Thomson, the executive secretary of the board.

Although participants agreed on the need for common standards, several state officials indicated that they would not favor a national licensing system or examination.

"I think we've come a long way,'' Mr. Thomson said after the meeting. "We've moved everybody to the same page to discuss the possibility [of developing standards], and we've allayed some of the concerns that a national group would dictate this.''

The policy board, which was organized in 1988, is made up of 10 major education associations. In addition to developing national standards, its goal is to narrow the gap between theory and practice in administrator preparation.

The board early last year released its own comprehensive program for what principals should know and be able to do. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1993.)

But Mr. Thomson and others who support the standards movement--and possibly a national licensing test for principals--stressed that such tools will only succeed if the states "own the system.''

New Consortium Formed

The N.P.B.E.A. is one of a number of professional groups for administrators that support clearer standards for practice and increased cooperation among state licensing authorities and boards.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals, for example, last year called for states to take the lead in coordinating the preparation of school administrators. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)

In addition, the board of directors of the Council of Chief State School Officers this month announced that it would create an Interstate Principal Licensure Consortium, said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the C.C.S.S.O., which is a member of the policy board.

The consortium is expected to bring together states with common objectives for strengthening the criteria and procedures for initial licensure of school principals.

The effort would be similar to the C.C.S.S.O.'s Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, in which 37 states are developing common standards and assessments for the initial licensure of teachers, Mr. Ambach said.

The teacher-assessment consortium also works closely with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is piloting assessments this year for its voluntary national system to certify teachers.

No Time Like the Present

The state chiefs' announcement adds momentum to the administration policy board's work, Mr. Thomson noted, since the organizations will be partners in helping states agree to common standards for principals.

Several officials at the meeting here suggested that this recent push for standards was spurred by related movements in teacher preparation and licensure.

But Mr. Thomson offered several other reasons for moving forward with the standards.

The boom in decentralized school management, for example, "requires us to take a look at the knowledge, skills, and abilities important'' for principals, he said.

In addition, support for vouchers, charter schools, and alternative licensure indicates that the public is dissatisfied with the status quo, Mr. Thomson said.

Principals themselves have complained of a lack of consistency and high standards in preparation and licensure, he added. As of last year, for instance, there were only 23 states that defined the knowledge and skills required to be an administrator.

But Mr. Thomson also emphasized that the states should not look at standards as a "straitjacket,'' but as a broad, creative way to approach licensure and reflect changes in practice.

The policy board hopes to interest at least 15 to 20 states in drafting national standards, he said. Already, 35 states are reviewing their own licensing standards, and a consortium of New England states is moving to adopt common procedures, he pointed out.

A second meeting on standards is expected to take place this spring. This month's talks were funded by the Danforth Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the Lilly Endowment.

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