A new push is under way to jump-start stalled efforts to create a system of advanced certification for principals and superintendents, akin to the national certification process for teachers.
At the urging of a coalition of groups representing educational administrators, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has agreed to coordinate the initial planning. An advisory panel began meeting last month and expects over the summer to begin work toward choosing a chairperson and a board of directors to lead the project.
Although still lacking a major funder to back what will assuredly be an expensive enterprise, organizers say the involvement of the national board—and the prospect that someone will soon be named to spearhead the effort—greatly increases the odds of winning financial support.
“I think the glass is more than half full,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Offering school leaders the chance to become nationally certified, supporters say, would expand their opportunities for professional growth and career advancement. New standards for what highly accomplished principals and superintendents should know and be able to do could then play an influential role in reshaping existing administrator-training programs, much as the national board has influenced the content of teacher education programs.
Logical Next Step
Supporters also view advanced certification as the next logical step, following recent efforts to set guidelines for novice school administrators. Working under the auspices of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a group called the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium adopted such entry-level standards in 1996; since then, some 35 states have begun incorporating the standards into their policies.
“If that’s all there is, we basically send a signal to principals and superintendents that once they get licensed, it’s the end of their professional development, when it ought to be a beginning,” said David Mandel, a former vice president of the national teaching-standards board who helped flesh out the proposal for certifying school leaders.
Added Mr. Mandel, who is now a director at MPR Associates, an education consulting group with offices in Berkeley, Calif., and in Washington: “So far, the profession hasn’t basically said what excellence in this field looks like.”
The idea for the project grew out of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, which includes representatives of 10 leadership groups, including the secondary school principals’ organization, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Association of School Administrators.
Policy board members say they initially struck out in their attempts to raise start-up funds. And their proposal comes as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the private, nonprofit organization that began certifying teachers in 1994, faces increased scrutiny from researchers and policymakers asking whether board-certified teachers actually raise student performance.
But Mr. Tirozzi of the NASSP said it wasn’t skepticism that gave funders pause, but the fact that the effort lacked a full-time organizer. “You need a champion for these programs,” he said.
Teaming up with the teaching-standards board was an attempt to get the ball rolling. The Arlington., Va.-based board has agreed to coordinate the project, at least until a chairperson is selected, by organizing meetings of the advisory panel appointed by the administrators’ organizations.
Eventually, though, the aim is for the new certification body to raise its own money and to spin off a fully independent group.
“It is not something we want to own,” said Betty Castor, the president of the teaching-standards board. “We’re kind of a neutral third party, and in a position to get them off the ground.”
Even at that point, however, it still would be years before the first principal or superintendent became certified. Standards must be drafted and agreed upon. Assessments must be designed and field-tested. A central issue will be how much to borrow from the teacher board’s evaluation system, which requires candidates to complete a yearlong portfolio of their work, take a series of written exams, and be videotaped in the classroom.
But organizers already agree on this much, Mr. Tirozzi says: “It will be a rigorous process, and relatively difficult to achieve.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2002 edition of Education Week as Leadership Groups Hope to Launch Advanced Certification