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Who Should Run Schools?

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Michigan has given up one of the basic jobs of running a state school system: On July 1, the state became the first in the nation to stop certifying school administrators. Local boards can hire anyone they want to run schools.

Lawmakers revoked the state's authority to license principals, superintendents, and other school administrators last year when they revised the state school code. Opponents of the move claim it will permit unprepared and undesirable people to run schools at a time when other standards in education are being raised. But supporters argue that in an era when many parents can choose which schools their children attend--or choose to start their own--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?' " says Gary 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."

But William Mays, executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, says 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," he says.

Republican Governor 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 he does not want to see administrator certification reinstated.

Since 1993, Michigan has allowed districts to hire administrators who are not licensed. But until July, the state education department still could issue and renew administrator certificates. Now, says Carolyn Logan, director of certification for the department, the state 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 asks. "Before, we had that normal way of sanctioning professionals. We lose that ability."

Gary Marx, the senior associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Virginia, believes that removing certification is a "double-edged sword." Some people think that certification needs to be changed to reflect the tasks now facing school administrators, Marx says, but allowing anyone to hold a school administration job "could conjure up some fairly shaky possibilities."

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