Professional Development

Groups Pushing for Measures To Attract, Retain Principals

By Mark Stricherz — July 11, 2001 3 min read
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Soon after the current congressional session began in January, key lawmakers were handed an 85-page, blue-and-purple booklet measuring about 6 by 10 inches. It was called “The Principal, Keystone of a High-Achieving School: Attracting and Keeping the Leaders We Need.”

Six months later, with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act not yet final, the book is almost certain to reappear on Capitol Hill. The national associations representing elementary and secondary school principals are anxious about the fate of their two top legislative goals: bills that aim to attract and keep school leaders.

“We’ve had a real struggle getting the message out that principals are just as important as teachers,” said Stephen W. DeWitt, the associate director of government relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, based in Reston, Va.

Released early last year, the booklet is now serving as the legislative blueprint for the NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., sponsored legislation to tackle one issue of concern to both groups: a shortage of principals. And Sens. John Kerry, D- Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., proposed a bill to address worries about retaining school leaders. While both bills sailed through the Senate as amendments to the ESEA reauthorization, most of their supporters expect them to face obstacles in an upcoming conference committee, when negotiators reconcile the House and Senate versions of the flapship K-12 law.

The supporters worry especially that President Bush and House Republicans may oppose the Senate bill for containing what they regard as profligate spending. (See related story, “Paige Asserts He’ll Smooth Early Bumps,” July 11, 2001.)

Sen. Clinton’s bill to attract school administrators would authorize spending up to $50 million a year on a “national principal-recruitment program” in “high need” districts. Under the measure, grants would be available for districts where more than 30 percent of the students live in poverty. Promoting the measure last year during her successful Senate bid, Ms. Clinton cited figures showing that 40 percent of school principals were expected to retire within 10 years.

“We clearly have a serious teacher shortage in this country, but there’s a principal shortage as well,” she said in a recent interview at the Capitol. But no similar measure was passed in the House.

Many House Republicans believe that the Senate version of ESEA would authorize spending far too much in the coming fiscal year— $31.6 billion vs. the $23 billion allowed under the House bill. Said Dave Schnittger, the spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee: “The difference in authorizing levels between the House and Senate bills is significant.”

A similar problem may bedevil the amendment offered by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Smith amendment.

Under their measure, districts would be required to spend some of the federal money they receive for professional development—this year, $549 million was available under Title II of the ESEA—on principals and assistant principals. Like Ms. Clinton, Mr. Kerry argued in an interview that the bill was needed to fill “a desperate principal shortage in the country.”

As with Sen. Clinton’s amendment, however, the House did not pass a companion amendment. In fact, the House Rules Committee never weighed a similar measure sponsored by Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., that would have required districts to spend 5 percent of their federal professional-development money on school leadership. Mr. Scott attributed the measure’s fate to the fact that he had introduced it too late for other lawmakers to consider it.

The House did pass one amendment addressing school leadership, but the principals’ lobbying groups aren’t trumpeting it. The amendment sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., would merely allow districts to spend money on professional-development activities such as school leadership academies.

That language worries Gerald N. Tirozzi, the president of the secondary principals’ association.

“We absolutely applaud Mr. Kind, but the problem is his bill puts the onus on the district on whether or not it may happen, and with all the other needs for teachers, I don’t have the sense that principals will get development,” said Mr. Tirozzi, who served as the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under President Clinton.

Negotiators are expected to complete the ESEA bill in August or September.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as Groups Pushing for Measures To Attract, Retain Principals

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