Recruitment & Retention

California Faces Shortage Of Administrators, Report Warns

By Jessica L. Sandham — April 04, 2001 3 min read
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Recruiting qualified principals and district superintendents in California is becoming increasingly difficult just as administrators are facing a complex new set of on-the-job responsibilities, a report warns.

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EdSource, a Palo Alto-based education watchdog organization, asserts in a report released in March that the challenges faced by school leaders in California are exacerbated by the state’s comparatively high student-to-administrator ratio, inadequate training, and a new testing and accountability program that has raised the stakes attached to administrators’ positions.

“Superintendents and principals face increasing pressure to improve schools, often without the necessary resources, staff support, or preparation to do so,” the report says. “Compared to years past, many report that stress levels are greater, workdays and work years are longer, and the public’s expectations are higher.”

At the same time, the report notes, recruiters are reporting that fewer qualified people are applying to fill administrator vacancies in California, even as anticipated retirements and growing student enrollments will increase the demand for new school leaders over the next decade.

Richard Loveall, the director of executive-search services for the California School Boards Association, said that the organization typically conducts between 18 and 22 searches to fill superintendent openings in a given year. This year, he said, it is in the process of conducting 32 searches and looking at the possibility of doing eight more.

“People who are moving through the ranks are now stopping midway and saying, ‘I don’t think I’m going to subject myself to being a superintendent with the way things are currently configured,’” Mr. Loveall said. “If you’re a superintendent and you sign a contract and you don’t deliver in the short term, you’re vulnerable. They’d like to have more job security.”

The report calls on state policymakers to re-examine the expectations placed on California’s superintendents and principals.

Bob Wells, the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, said he was encouraged that state leaders were becoming more aware of the problem—especially when it comes to the need for better job training and support.

Under a bill pending in the legislature, backed by Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, the state would spend $15 million to train 5,000 principals in leadership, management, and data-analysis skills tied to the state’s academic standards.

‘Spread Thin’

While many of the new challenges California’s school leaders are facing are similar to those of administrators in other states that have implemented high-stakes accountability systems, the report argues that the state’s high ratio of students to administrators causes added stress.

It cites data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicating that in the 1997-98 school year, California had the highest ratio of students to school or assistant principals in the nation. The national average was 366-to-1, while the California average was 534-to-1.

“You take a staff of principals and administrators who were already spread thin, and add this higher level of expectation and workload,” Mr. Wells said. “It’s not surprising that smart teachers look at that and are scared off by the job.”

The report recommends several steps school and district leaders could take to make administrative jobs more appealing, including reassessing staffing levels to ensure that they are sufficient to meet school and district expectations and making compensation for administrators more accurately reflect their myriad responsibilities.

Mr. Loveall said school leaders and others in education can also help address the shortage by seeking out teachers and principal candidates to “talk to them about the value of giving back to society in this way.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2001 edition of Education Week as California Faces Shortage Of Administrators, Report Warns


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