Excerpts From the National Policy Board's Report

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The following excerpts from the report of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, entitled "Improving the Preparation of School Administrators: An Agenda for Reform," describe the current state of preparation programs in the field.

Every educational-reform report of the past decade has concluded that the nation cannot have excellent schools without effective leaders. Researchers studying school improvement have stressed the link between effective administrators and a positive school climate. In the marketplace the nation accepts the importance of effective leadership as axiomatic: Companies with ineffective leaders end up in takeover battles or bankruptcy court.

Nonetheless, the nation devotes relatively meager resources to producing effective leaders for schools. In the past few years our society has taken steps to upgrade the teaching profession and improve student-achievement standards, but we have neglected the equally important task of enhancing the preparation of school administrators.

For those individuals who will manage our top corporations, tend to our health, and provide us legal counsel, we spare no expense in creating appropriate learning environments, providing financial aid, and attracting top-drawer faculty. Any suggestion that the nation could produce skilled professionals in these fields without excellent preparation programs would be thought foolish. Yet that is how we try to produce educational administrators.

Over the past quarter-century preservice preparation programs for educational administration have proliferated, but their quality has deteriorated. In a variety of ways, these programs are failing their candidates; ultimately, they are failing our nation's schoolchildren. They have strayed far from the classical model of intensive, disciplined study under the tutelage of scholars and practitioners.

Instead they enroll large numbers of almost entirely part-time students who accrue credits on a piecemeal basis toward inadequate standards of licensure. The model that the field accepts for certification and licensure is recognizable more by its weaknesses than by its strengths, weaknesses so pervasive they are treated as inevitable characteristics of the field.

Some substantial criticism for this state of affairs must be leveled at the programs themselves. An ordinary administrator-preparation program in education has most or all of the following characteristics.


The typical graduate administrator-preparation program does not have a recruitment strategy. Financial support for graduate educational-administration students ranks low among university funding priorities. Even in graduate schools with national reputations, the pool of potential applicants for admission to educational-administration programs is geographically limited. Almost all of the educational-administration applicants for admission live and work within commuting distance of the campus. And in spite of the desperate need for minority-group administrators, recruitment programs for minority students are ordinarily informal and unsuccessful.

Programs are aggressively nonselective. Among 94 intended majors of graduate students in 1985-86, the average [Graduate Record Examination] scores of educational-administration students ranked fourth from the bottom--91st. Many graduate programs adhere to an unspoken pact that any teacher, even an unsuccessful teacher with marginal academic ability, has an inalienable6,8,8,9.5,11p3,,-1

right to study for an administrator's certificate, and persistent candidates are almost always admitted.

The end result is a glut of certificate holders with dubious qualifications who cannot find school administrative jobs. As of 1986, the oversupply of certificate holders per state was 5,758.

According to a 1988 survey, professors of educational administration spend only 12 percent of their time on research--probably an exaggeration, since this was a self-reporting survey. At the same time, practicing administrators complain that professors of educational administration are divorced from field practice. How, then, do faculty spend their time? The answer is in processing hordes of students who generate fiscally appealing credit hours through certification courses.

[The 1988 study] noted that the modal number of graduate faculty in departments of educational administration is two. Over half the doctoral-degree-granting institutions have five or fewer faculty. Dissertation loads of 35 to 40 students are common. And in a field that needs integration between coursework and practice, the use of clinical professors and outstanding practitioners as key program faculty is infrequent.


Most graduate students in educational administration, including those in doctoral programs, are part-time students and full-time employees. Residency requirements, where they exist at all, are generally technical fabrications (e.g., accumulating 18 to 24 credits in a calendar year) that simply exacerbate the problem of the part-time student by crowding more courses into a shorter span of time. In many programs, clinical experiences and field-residency requirements are arranged to fit a student's full-time work schedule or are missing altogether.

The type of professional education required for licensure in educational administration varies from state to state. Many states certify people at or below the master's-degree level. In most states, certification can be obtained by completing a patchwork of courses in a variety of institutions, often under inferior academic conditions. This contrasts unfavorably with the level and intensity of the professional training required in business administration, law, or public administration. In each of these instances, two to three years of full-time study is routinely expected; work undertaken casually at multiple institutions would be quite unacceptable.

The fact that students can get by with haphazard course-taking demonstrates the lack of cohesion and rigor in most educational-administration programs. Generally the required core consists only of those courses necessary for licensure in the home state, and any concept of sequence is lost. Course content is often irrelevant, outdated, and unchallenging. Essential learnings, such as knowledge of the teaching and learning process, may not be covered at all. Students routinely complete certification requirements with minimal information about the classroom, the school as an organization, or the social context of schooling.

Most students complete their training without having formed a professional relationship with a professor or a student colleague. Few can point to work with a professor on a field-based study or article or with other graduate students on a team project. Looking back on their programs, doctoral students are likely to cite a loosely formed comprehensive-examination study group as their most intense collegial relationship.

Some programs provide no opportunities for students to practice their skills through clinical experiences or field residency. Those that do seldom integrate such experiences with the regular coursework of the department. Internships or residencies are ordinarily arranged in the student's home school district and often consist of an hour or two a day on top of the student's regular teaching load.


Faculties and deans in schools of education are frequently embarrassed by the academic performance of educational-administration graduate students. The modal grade is an "A," not because all students can demonstrate attainment of a set of criterion-referenced performance standards, but because faculty have given up on holding tired, end-of-the-day students to typical graduate performance. Doctoral dissertations are often methodologically inadequate and banal and are viewed by students as a hurdle never again to be confronted.

Despite the efforts of a national accrediting agency and state education agencies to regulate preparation programs, the number of training sites for educational administrators has proliferated to the point that one might question whether the profession is exerting any reasonable control over the quality of entrants into the field. Over 500 institutions of higher education now offer graduate courses in school administration.

The lucrative features of certification courses--high enrollments, low cost--have induced colleges and universities to offer random pieces of programs without adequate facilities or faculty. Institutions with no other commitment to training in the education profession offer continuing-education courses in educational administration. Low admission standards, coupled with weak instructional programs, make it nearly impossible for state licensing agencies to do anything other than count course hours in certifying school administrators.


We have described the current state of administrator preparation as realistically as possible. Our intent is not to be harsh or unfair, but to be honest about our shortcomings. What we have found is a field frozen through years of accommodation. To thaw this field will require changes proportional to the problems. The problems are systemic, so the reform agenda must be comprehensive.

We propose such an agenda.

Though ambitious, the agenda is based upon well-accepted models of professional study. If the changes appear to be great, that only reflects the distance educational administration has strayed from its own roots and from the classical model of professional preparation that is a matter of course in other professional fields. By following this model we envision that administrator-preparation programs will attract talented candidates, earn greater public respect, respond to needs to improve the profession, and join with educational-administration practitioners in efforts to increase the effectiveness of schools.

Vol. 08, Issue 35

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