Raise Caliber of Leader Training, New Report Urges

By Lynn Olson — May 24, 1989 10 min read

Washington--In a sharply worded critique, a coalition of the major national groups that represent school administrators has called for a total overhaul of how members of their profession are recruited, trained, and certified.

The 41-page document, “Improving the Preparation of School Administrators: An Agenda for Reform,” was scheduled to be released here at a press conference this week.

It marks the first time that the major players in educational administration have spoken out with one voice regarding the deficiencies in their field.

The report calls for “dramatically raised” entrance standards to administrative-training programs, a required doctorate for all prospective superintendents and principals, and elimination of the master’s degree.

It also advocates the development of programs that include one full-time year of university work and one full-time year of field experience, and the creation of a national board, composed “primarily” of practicing administrators, to develop new certification standards.

The current system of training and licensing for school administrators is “recognizable more by its weaknesses than by its strengths,” the report charges.

These include an excessive number of weak university programs that are too easy to enter and complete; curricula that are often “irrelevant, outdated, and unchallenging"; and licenses that can be obtained through a “patchwork of courses in a variety of institutions.”

“Over the past quarter-century, pre-service preparation programs for educational administration have proliferated,” the report states, “but their quality has deteriorated.”

“In a variety of ways, these programs are failing their candidates,’' it adds. "[U]ltimately, they are failing our nation’s schoolchildren.”

While many reports and research studies have stressed the importance of strong leadership in creating good schools, critics contend that the reform movement largely has neglected the question of how to produce effective administrators.

In 1987, the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration released the first report to focus specifically on the problems of this group. It urged that 300 of the more than 500 institutions that prepare administrators cease to do so.

It also recommended that professional organizations create a new national board to carry out its proposals.

The result was the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, which produced the new document. The board comprises the executive secretaries and the presidents of 10 major education associations. (See box on this page.)

“This is the first time that the major national professional associations in this field have taken a look at themselves and their responsibilities,” said David L. Clark, executive secretary of the board, in an interview last week.

“There is substantial dissatisfaction with the current state of preparation programs for school administrators,” he added. “There are not segments of the profession that want to defend it.”

Compared with the 1987 report, however, the new document is far bolder and more specific in its suggestions for change.

The report’s nine major recommendations are broken into three sections: proposals for improving the quality, number, and diversity of students and faculty; proposals for strengthening the structure, duration, and content of pre-service pre4paration programs; and proposals for the creation of better assessments for prospective school leaders.

According to the report, most training programs are “aggressively nonselective,” catering to a continual flow of part-time students whose major attribute is the revenue that they generate for the university.

“Many graduate programs adhere to an unspoken pact that any teacher, even an unsuccessful teacher with marginal academic ability, has an inalienable right to study for an administrator’s certificate,” the report asserts, “and persistent candidates are almost always admitted.’'

“The end result,” it argues, “is a glut of certificate holders with dubious qualifications who cannot find school-administrative jobs.”

To remedy that problem, the report suggests that graduate-level preparation programs mount “vigorous” recruitment strategies to attract the “brightest and most capable” candidates representing the broadest cultural diversity possible.

It also advocates a minority enrollment in such programs that is comparable to the number of minority students attending the local public schools.

In addition, it asserts, institutions must reach beyond their immediate geographic area to recruit students. And they must offer more generous and accessible financial support.

To ensure the quality of candidates, the board proposes creating a standardized national test for prospective students that would measure their verbal, mathematical, and reasoning abilities as well as their administrative potential.

Only those candidates scoring in the top quartile would be admitted to administrative-training programs.

In addition, candidates would have to demonstrate excellence in teachingon state licensure, a master’s degree in teaching, and evidence of “successful teaching” in a classroom.

“There are compelling reasons for considering excellence in teaching as a selection criterion for prospective administrators,” the report asserts. “The teaching and learning process is the core function of the school. This is the process that makes education a unique administrative challenge.”

It also argues that, given the choice, teachers will select “outstanding peers as their leaders in facilitating instruction; leaders who are in touch with them and their work; leaders who know that the school is a learning place.”

The report’s recommendations run directly counter to those of education officials in New Jersey and elsewhere who have suggested that individuals with no teaching background be allowed to enter the ranks of school administrators.

It also advocates improving the quality of the faculty within administrative-training programs through better recruitment, selection, and training; maintaining a critical mass of at least five full-time faculty members; using full-time faculty to provide the bulk of teaching, advising, and mentoring for students; and ensuring a student-faculty ratio comparable to that in other graduate professional programs on campus.

According to the report, evidence of a strong program of personnel development that builds on the strengths and weaknesses of existing faculty should be required for state and national accreditation.

“In addition,” it notes, “departmental vitality in the practice of educational administration can be supported by encouraging faculty to spend sustained time periodically in a school or district engaged in meaningful collaborations with full-time administrators.”

The report also makes a number of controversial recommendations for strengthening administrator-training programs.

These include requiring a doctorel10late for all administrators who are in charge of a school or a school system, and eliminating programs that terminate in a master’s degree.

Several national reports on teaching have advocated that future teachers possess a major in a subject area as well as a fifth year of professional training. In light of that standard, the new document contends, it would be “inappropriate” to require anything less of aspiring administrators as a precondition for graduate work.

School-business administrators, however, still could be certified after having completed a master’s degree in business or some other alternative route, and would not be expected to have teaching experience.

In addition, administrators below the level of principal--such as department chairmen, supervisors, and assistant principals--would not be expected to complete a doctoral program in order to be hired, Mr. Clark said. But they would have to complete a sixth year of training or some type of “specialist” degree as an intermediate step to earning their doctorate and advancing up the career ladder.

The board also suggests that the nature and duration of administrative training change drastically.

Most prospective administrators, for example, work full time and take courses in the evening or on weekends.

But according to the board, the “knowledge, skills, attitudes, and ethics” needed by effective leaders can only be gained through an “intense period of uninterrupted and concentrated work.”

To achieve that goal, it recommends at least one year of full-time university study, during which students would not hold a full-time job.

In addition, students with no prior administrative experience would be required to complete a second full-time year of clinical work out in a school district.

This experience, akin to the “professional development schools” now being discussed for teachers, would center on supervised practice, assessment of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and site-based academic seminars.

Field residencies for students with “substantial” administrative experience would be developed on an individual basis, according to the report.

To make such residencies a reality, the report concedes, will require long-term, formal relationships between universities and districts that do not now exist. At present, some administrative-training programs do not offer any clinical experiences.

Ideally, the report asserts, field administrators would hold adjunct faculty positions within the university, participate in planning and de4signing the program, teach courses, and conduct field-based seminars.

The report also recommends that the professional community develop some consensus about the knowledge base needed by school administrators, in order to develop a core curriculum for future preparation programs.

Such a curriculum, it argues, should be “practice-based and practice-driven” and should integrate clinical experiences with theory.

The document makes a number of recommendations in this area, ranging from the study of organizational theory to understanding the teaching and learning process in schools. In addition, it suggests, "[s]tudents should be pushed to examine their own belief systems,” and should be given the tools to assess the “moral and ethical implications of administrative decisions in schools.”

Finally, the report recommends creation of a national board, consisting “primarily” of practicing school administrators, to develop new certification standards for the field.

The board would develop and administer a national certification exam, which individuals would take upon completion of an accredited preparation program. The exam would reflect the common core of knowledge, skills, and abilities described in the report.

States would be encouraged to require passage of the examination as one criterion for state licensure.

Eventually, the board would also establish “advanced examinations” for experienced administrators, to recognize “signal performance” in school leadership.

The 1987 report had recommended the creation of a national “academy’’ to certify outstanding school administrators. But Mr. Clark said the national policy board decided to focus its efforts on new recruits, because the “core weakness in the field of administration at the present time centers on the pre-service preparation program.”

The report also recommends a system of national accreditation for all administrative-training programs. Accreditation could be done by an existing agency, such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the report states, or by a “newly organized body.”

States would be encouraged to incorporate similar standards into their accreditation and program-approval process.

Although the report notes that some administrative-training programs may fold because they cannot meet the proposed requirements, it cautions that its recommendations cannot be “picked apart” without losing their integrity.

Later this month, 100 leaders in the field of school administration are scheduled to meet at the University of Virginia to discuss the report and determine next steps.

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 1989 edition of Education Week as Raise Caliber of Leader Training, New Report Urges