Education Letter to the Editor


November 01, 2000 4 min read

New Leaders

To the Editor:

In your article “Nonprofit Group Aims To Groom New Breed of Leaders”(Sept. 20, 2000), you described the development of a nonprofit organization focused on “putting first-class principals in urban schools.” Jonathan H. Schnur, a former White House education adviser, and several of his colleagues plan to raise $4 million to finance the organization, New Leaders for New Schools. The organization plans to recruit experienced teachers, along with high-fliers from outside education, and train them for roles as school leaders, thereby addressing the issue of the leadership shortage.

While the need for recruiting talented individuals for school leadership positions is certainly something worthy of national attention and may be the key strength of the New Leaders proposal, we believe that Mr. Schnur and his colleagues, like many other groups and individuals interested in addressing the shortage of school leaders, have failed to consider the leadership-shortage issue in all of its complexity. Indeed, scholars, policymakers, policy analysts, school leaders, and professional organizations across the country have spent considerable time and energy analyzing this issue.

Among the factors identified as contributing to the shortage are: increasing expectations, responsibilities, and stressful conditions for school administrators; insufficient salaries and fringe benefits; lack of needed resources and support for school leaders; a lack of general awareness of the positive aspects of administration; limited and ineffective recruitment efforts; and a history of discriminatory hiring practices.

As a result of the interactive complexity of these issues, addressing the shortage will require a thoughtful, informed, and well-planned strategy. It is doubtful that creating one more alternative-certification program will either significantly reform the principalship or adequately address the shortage.

If Mr. Schnur and his colleagues had thoroughly investigated this issue, they would have discovered that a wealth of excellent programs that focus on the urban principalship already exist. Among these programs are the urban-principalship programs of the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, the University of San Diego, California State University-Los Angeles, and Fordham University. These programs recruit committed and skilled educators, usually in cooperation with school districts and school administrators, into school leadership programs. They provide high-quality, substantive leadership-preparation programs based on current research and best practice aimed at developing leaders who will be successful with all children.

To reiterate, the shortage of qualified principals for urban schools (or any school for that matter) will not be adequately addressed by the creation of one more principal-preparation program, particularly one that fails to recognize the importance of educational experience to effective school leadership.

As Vincent L. Ferrandino of the National Association of Elementary School Principals commented in your article, the job requires knowledge that comes only with having taught in a classroom. As scholars of educational leadership, we cannot condone projects that deny the importance of professional knowledge and skills. Nor can we support measures that would place a school in the hands of an individual with no technical expertise in the process of educating children.

New Leaders and other endeavors of this nature are likely to have limited success, because they fail to grasp the importance of professional knowledge and experience and because they fail to address the substantive and complex issues surrounding the leadership shortage. The creators of the New Leaders project, however, should not give up their quest to recruit highly talented individuals into the principalship. Indeed, as noted previously, recruitment is an important factor in addressing the shortage, but so too is redefining the role of the principal.

Perhaps the $4 million that Mr. Schnur proposes to raise would be better spent on a nationwide effort to recruit talented educators into school leadership, to financially assist those recruits in obtaining leadership preparation, and to support leadership-mentoring partnerships.

Alternatively, the money could be invested in a new or existing “think tank” on school leadership, where current school and community leaders, scholars, and policymakers could work together to redefine the principalship, principals’ roles, and their working conditions. (Each of these factors ranks high among the reasons talented educators who currently hold administrative licensure give for not pursuing a principalship.)

Too often in education, the tendency is to charge forward with expensive reforms without carefully analyzing the situation and without understanding what actions and resources are needed. Yes, the shortage of school administrators requires our immediate attention and commitment. The shortage will not be solved, however, by the New Leaders organization or by any organization that limits its focus to recruitment and preparation.

Rather, the shortage will only be substantively addressed if groups like New Leaders, school and school district leaders, faculty members of preparation programs, representatives of administrator professional organizations, community and business leaders, and policymakers work together to address the issue in all its complexity.

Michelle D. Young
Executive Director
George J. Petersen
Associate Director
University Council for
Educational Administration
Columbia, Mo.