New Jersey Plan Widens Access To Principalship

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New Jersey last week became the first state to adopt new standards for the certification of school principals that will open up the field to those without any previous experience in education.

The new policy, which was adopted by a unanimous vote of the state's board of education, tightens the educational requirements for principals and includes a written test and a skills assessment that candidates must pass before being certified.

But it dispenses with the previous requirement that principals have at least three years of teaching experience.

A pilot program offered as part of the new policy will allow candidates with little or no teaching experience to become certified after completing a one- to two-year residency period.

During their residency, new principals will be required to teach at least one class each day while managing a school with the help of a "mentor principal."

Commissioner of Education Saul A. Cooperman called the new policy "the most rigorous in the nation," and claimed it would open up a previously "monopolistic" field.

The time has come, the commissioner said, to challenge the long-accepted reasoning that "a librarian, nurse, social worker, or 4th-grade teacher can become a principal and ... automatically understand the leadership of schools because they've had at least three years' experience in education."

"The demands are tremendous on a principal today," he said in an interview. "They must understand the complexities of leadership, have a strong will and backbone. Not to say that an educator doesn't have that, ... but why shouldn't doors be open to the best talent from other fields?"

Leaders of education groups and teachers' unions, however, expressed dismay at the new policy. While they said they were generally encouraged by the state's move to revamp the training and licensing system for principals, many added that they had serious reservations about opening the field to noneducators.

James Moran, executive director of the School Administrators Association of New Jersey, called the policy "an unwarranted experiment in our schools."

"We're opposed to dismissing knowledge of education, and knowledge of teaching, as essential to becoming a principal," he said.

The policy's internship component, he added, is "tantamount to a person's going to law school and practicing law simultaneously."

Gary Marx, associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, suggested that the New Jersey policy runs counter to the nationwide movement to strengthen the role of principals as instructional leaders. "And that is something you cannot learn elsewhere," he asserted.

Ted Elsberg, the new president of the American Federation of School Administrators, agreed, saying the policy switches the focus from instructional leadership to management.

"We're not running a factory here," he said. "What will the teachers in that school think of a principal's ability to develop instruction if he or she doesn't have classroom experience? Or is the principal's job just to see that the trains run on time?"

Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, testified against the New Jersey policy in February before the state board. Last week, he noted that almost every state is considering new standards for principals, but that only New Jersey has proposed eliminating the teaching requirement altogether.

"The other states know that teaching experience is essential to a principalship," he said.

The New Jersey approach "defies not only common sense, but all the research we've seen on leadership that says that a leader has to be acquainted with the central tasks of his organization, or he will not be a good leader," Mr.Thomson added.

"The central purpose of a school is instruction," he said.

The secondary-schools leader noted that two other states--Florida and Michigan--have adopted new4certification requirements for principals over the past two years. Both have called for higher standards in education and training, as well as a minimum of three years of teaching experience.

New Jersey officials have been grappling with the issue since Gov. Thomas H. Kean labeled the previous standards inadequate three years ago in his quest to overhaul the state's education system.

In 1985, the state board established a commission to study the certification process. And a year later, it concluded that the requirements for the post were "loosely defined" and "so unspecified as to bear little or no direct relationship to the principalship itself."

Previously, candidates were required to have at least three years of experience in a certified school position, a master's degree in any field, and credits for three additional education-related graduate courses.

Under the new requirements, they must earn a master's degree in a management field, pass a written test to be developed by the state, and undergo an assessment of management and teaching skills by state officials.

The assessment and testing programs will be operational in September of 1989, though the requirements went into effect last week.

A grandfather clause excludes current license holders, and those who receive their licenses before September 1989. The new policy does not require recertification at any time.

Nonteacher candidates will re8ceive some classroom training under the plan, stressed Roger Shatzkin, a spokesman for the state board. "We're not talking about a person walking out of McDonald's and into a school."

Candidates with less than a year of teaching experience will be required to teach at least one class a day for at least one year during their residency. For those with no teaching experience at all, two years will be required.

During a 30- to 60-day pre-residency period--the length to be determined by the candidate's level of experience--45 hours of formal study in education will be required. These courses will be divided equally between the supervision of instruction and curriculum.

When the pre-residency period is over--and while the candidate is completing required teaching hours--he or she will be managing the school as principal, with the help of a mentor.

According to Leo F. Klagholz, state director of teacher preparation and certification, three mentor principals chosen and trained by the state will be made available to each new principal. They will not, however, be on site during the residency period.

"What could be better," Mr. Cooperman said, "than, while making decisions as a principal, to actually be in the classroom feeling the results?"

Under the pilot program, which is scheduled to end in 1992, only 50 nonteachers will be hired as principals throughout the state.

Mr. Klagholz said that the state board expected a large response to the new standards, and that his office had already received calls from noneducators interested in applying.

But Mr. Thomson said he would be surprised if the state received 50 applicants. "It's going to be a very exceptional school board that will hire a principal without any experience," he noted.

According to Mr. Klagholz, there is no shortage of principals in the state. In fact, there is a glut, he said..

Currently, 11,000 New Jersians hold a license to be a principal. Last year, the state licensed only 35 new principals, the director said.

The new policy, as well as the pilot program, will be re-evaluated in 1992 based on the recommendations of a state-appointed advisory committee, consisting of educators, union representatives, and citizens.

The New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, opposed the new policy until the state guaranteed that the plan would be reviewed in 1992, according to a spokesman for the teachers' union.

The committee will evaluate the effectiveness of the training offered to nonteacher candidates and decide whether their eligibility should be continued, according to Mr. Klagholz, who noted that critics of the policy will have a second chance to be heard.

"We stand ready to make any changes needed, if necessary," he said. "But we don't want to rule out, in the abstract, any new ideas."

Vol. 08, Issue 03

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