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Mich. Stops Certifying School Administrators

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Michigan has given up one of the basic jobs of running a state school system: certifying administrators.

On July 1, the state became the first in the nation to stop certifying administrators. School boards now can hire anyone they want to run local schools.

Lawmakers last year revoked the state's authority to license more than 12,000 school principals, superintendents, and other administrators when they revised the state school code.

Opponents of the measure claim it will permit unprepared and undesirable people to run schools at a time when other standards in education are being raised. But supporters counter that in an era when many parents can decide which schools their children attend--or even whether to start their own schools--state certification of administrators is no longer needed.

"Why should we at the state level tell a local school board that is now going to have to be competing for students, 'We are going to decide whom you can hire as superintendent'?" said Gary L. Wolfram, a member of the state board of education. "Maybe they want to hire Pete DuPont as a superintendent ... and they think he can do a very good job. That's up to them."

'Negative Image'

But William Mays, the executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, said education groups in the state will lobby lawmakers to put certification back on the books.

"It gives Michigan a very negative image to be the only state in the nation without administrator certification," Mr. Mays argued.

Since 1993, Michigan has allowed school districts to hire administrators who are not licensed. States such as New Jersey permit people to gain certification without completing traditional education school programs. And people without an education background have been hired to run a few big-city school systems, such as Seattle. (See "A Military Man Takes Charge of Seattle Schools," Oct. 11, 1995.)

But until now the Michigan education department still could issue and renew administrator certificates. Now, said Carolyn Logan, the director of certification for the department, Michigan no longer holds the authority to grant, revoke, or suspend the license of an administrator, even one convicted of child sexual abuse or other wrongdoing.

"What's going to happen to these people?" she said. "Before, we had that normal way of sanctioning professionals. We lose that ability."

Michigan law requires criminal-history checks before school personnel can be hired. But some other states do not. That could make it easier for Michigan administrators with criminal records to move to other states and resume work, Ms. Logan contended.

Others argued that the change will have little immediate impact. Kathleen N. Straus, a member of the state school board who supports certification, said she anticipated that most local boards still will hire people with education backgrounds.

"There's nothing to prevent local boards from putting in their own requirements, and I think that most of the local boards will probably do that," she said.

State Board Divided

Republican Gov. John Engler is a strong proponent of opening up Michigan's public schools to competition and variety. And he has been supported by the GOP-controlled legislature. Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus has said that he does not want to see administrator certification reinstated.

The state board, an elected panel dominated by Republicans, had planned to consider on June 14 whether it would authorize the education department to continue issuing certificates to administrators. But the item was removed from the agenda when a divided board could not decide whether it had that authority.

Gary Marx, the senior associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va., said that removing certification is a "doubled-edged sword."

Some people think that certification needs to be changed to reflect the tasks now facing school administrators, Mr. Marx said, but allowing anyone to hold a school administration job "could conjure up some fairly shaky possibilities."

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