School & District Management

Georgia to Set Higher Bar for School Administrators

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 18, 2007 5 min read
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Beginning next fall, a master’s degree in leadership will no longer be enough for someone to become and remain a principal or superintendent in Georgia, which is joining the push by a number of states to set stiffer requirements for administrators with the intent of better preparing them to lead schools in an era of accountability.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission is requiring that school administrators complete an education specialist’s degree within five years of landing such a job.

That mandate takes place in tandem with the University System of Georgia’s new requirement that all of its 11 master’s-degree programs for school leaders be revamped by next fall to include less classroom time and more actual practice in schools.

“Basically, if you look at the research literature, you can pretty much narrow down what handful of things are going to make a difference in improving student achievement: One is the quality of the teachers, another is the quality of the curriculum taught in the schools, and another is the quality of leadership,” said Jan Kettlewell, the vice chancellor of the university system.

Currently, Georgia educators can become assistant principals, principals, and superintendents with only a master’s degree, though they need to take additional credits to stay certified. Starting next fall they can become candidates for leadership jobs if they have any master’s degree and pass a leadership test, but they won’t become certified until completing the additional specialist’s degree.

While Georgia is unusual in requiring an additional degree for all school administrators, many states are taking steps similar to Georgia’s to ensure school leaders get more practical training. Among the states strengthening internships for school leaders in the South are Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

“There’s a lot more emphasis on internships and people being on the job and reflecting,” said Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. “You want people who can think about what they are doing and grapple with the whys.”

Backing From Associations

Representatives of two associations for school administrators in Georgia said they generally back the changes required by the Georgia standards commission. They said the accountability requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act have ushered in new expectations for school leaders.

“The focus on things like the use of data to design improvements to instruction is a higher priority than it was back when the Earth was cooling and I was a high school principal,” quipped Herb W. Garrett, the executive director of the Atlanta-based Georgia School Superintendents Association. “Since the changes [in requirements] are grounded in the reality of what school leadership is all about, the changes are positive.”

Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Flowery Branch, Ga.-based Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, said that “30 or 40 years ago, when I was a principal, if the building was warm in the winter, the superintendent didn’t get a lot of calls from parents who were unhappy, and the teachers were content, all was well and good.”

Increased accountability, brought in by the nearly 6-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, has changed all that, Mr. Puckett said. “Now instruction is driven by what’s going to be measured. The principal has to be well versed on all the school improvement initiatives mandated or available. When the test scores slip, it’s like in baseball: You don’t look at the team but the manager. You look at the building-level administrator.”

But Jeff Hubbard, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, based in Tucker, Ga., and an affiliate of the National Education Association, said he’s concerned about the new requirements, contending they are an “unfunded mandate.”

“If a person wants to go back to school, that’s fine, but don’t mandate it,” Mr. Hubbard said. The extra requirements, he suggested, could deter someone from wanting to become an administrator, leading to a shortage of such leaders.

He said that state education officials “really need to go to the legislature—the House and Senate education committees—and have someone write legislation for funding to provide for these principals to go back to school and not have to take it out of their pockets, or provide money for school systems to provide training.”

Specialist Requirement

One aspect of the new program for specialists in Georgia is that every school district that hires one of its candidates must work with a local university to provide the specialist’s training.

To get that degree, according to the university system, administrators would have to demonstrate a host of competencies—such as designing professional growth plans on the job, as well as take coursework. Two-thirds of the degree focuses on performance in the school setting, and a third of the degree focuses on knowledge acquired in the university classroom.

Mr. Garrett said he had some concerns about that because colleges and universities in Georgia don’t have much experience in partnering with local school districts. “The wingspan of colleges and universities will have to be really stretched to reach agreements with some of those far-flung school districts,” he said.

But Gene Bottoms, the senior vice president of the Atlanta-based SREB, said that the new requirements in Georgia are part of a trend for states in the South to make training for school leaders more rigorous and practical.

“They need to know more about curriculum and instruction. They need to know more research-based instructional practices. That’s the shift in emphasis,” he said.

He said that research is clear that school leadership accounts for about one-fifth to one-fourth of the impact schools have on student achievement.

He said the new requirements in Georgia are “a great step forward, particularly if they can create a cadre of school principals who can work with faculty to get more students to grade level, improve high school completion rates, and get more students prepared for the next move.” Push mirrors emphasis by a number of states on administrator training

A version of this article appeared in the December 19, 2007 edition of Education Week as Georgia to Set Higher Bar for School Administrators

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