School & District Management

New School-Leader Standards Stir Dissent

By Denisa R. Superville — May 08, 2015 5 min read
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New professional standards for school leaders, which are scheduled to be released next week, are drawing criticism from some educators who say they were sidelined in a final revision process that they contend puts too little emphasis on important aspects of the principal’s job relating to issues of social justice, cultural responsiveness, and ethics.

At the heart of their disagreement over the updated set of standards—which describes what principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders should know and be able to demonstrate in their work—are questions about the role principals play in today’s schools, the core functions that accompany the job, and who should have the final say over setting the professional benchmarks used to prepare, train, and evaluate school leaders.

The proposed new version of the principal standards—known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—were released for public comment last fall and have been subjected to major revisions ever since. Most states use the standards for their school leaders.

Fewer Standards

In the new version obtained by Education Week, the number of standards has been reduced from 11 to seven. Three standards that separately addressed ethical principles and professional norms, equity and cultural responsiveness, and curriculum and assessment have been removed, and some of the functions of the job that fall into those categories, have been folded into the remaining standards.

“Very serious damage has been done to the standards” as a result of the recent changes, said Joseph F. Murphy, who wrote the original standards in 1996, led the revisions in 2008, and chaired the umbrella committee in charge of the updates in 2014.

Mr. Murphy, an education professor and expert on education leadership at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said that it was “problematic and outrageous” that those three sections and other key language were removed. Once the language is erased from the standards or the actions that accompany those standards, he said, they will not be incorporated into state laws and district policies or programs that build on the standards.

But officials with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Washington-based organization that represents state education chiefs which partnered with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration to rewrite the standards, said the revisions reflect feedback from last fall’s public comment period and focus groups that CCSSO convened afterward. The feedback indicated that the standards released last fall were too numerous, redundant, and did not capture what “transformational” school leaders needed to do to ensure high student achievement, according to the CCSSO, which owns the copyright to the standards.

Benjamin Fenton, the chief strategy officer for New Leaders, a New York City-based nonprofit that trains leaders for high-poverty schools, said he has only seen an outline of the latest revisions, which he called a major improvement because they focus on instructional leadership, hiring and grooming top teacher talent, and building strong school cultures for students.

“[The new version of the standards] show the priorities for principals that align with what we’ve seen from the research in the field and in our own experience and practice with principals,” he said.

Based on the latest revisions to be released by the CCSSO, school leaders are expected to:

• Build a shared vision of student academic success and well being;

• Champion and support instruction and assessment that maximizes student learning and achievement;

• Manage and develop staff members’ professional skills and practices in order to drive student learning and achievement;

• Cultivate a caring and inclusive school community dedicated to student learning, academic success, and personal well-being of every student

• Effectively coordinate resources, time, structures, and roles to build the instructional capacity of teachers and other staff;

• Engage families and the outside community to promote and support student success; and

• Administer and manage operations efficiently and effectively.

Mr. Murphy said that while he does not object to some revisions, he and the two educators who helped him lead the rewrite—Margaret Terry Orr, a professor of educational leadership at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, and Mark Smylie, a retired professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago—do not support the current version of the standards.

Omitting Key Issues?

After the period of public feedback, the CCSSO took the standards for focus-group testing to two different groups that included educators, as well as representatives from grant-making and research foundations, the federal government, and university researchers, Mr. Murphy said.

Beverly Hutton, the deputy executive director of programs and services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals and a member of the standards-writing committee, said she and others who had helped “refresh” the standards didn’t see the latest version until this week.

Ms. Hutton said she was disappointed to find that sections on ethics and the “bold language” specifically addressing gender, race, and special status of students had been excised in the new version.

We know that those issues are impacting principal or school leader practice every single day,” Ms. Hutton said.

Robert Farrace, a spokesperson for NASSP, said that sidelining the principals in the final rewrite could risk the standards’ acceptance in the profession. “The standards would be universally accepted only if they are created in an inclusive and transparent manner,” Mr. Farrace said. “And CCSSO did have such a process set up. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they decided to deviate from that at the end. We are looking forward to that process getting back on track, because, in the end, what we want is a set of standards that everybody in the profession can support.”

The CCSSO did not address the substantive changes to the standards or the criticisms by publication time, but said the extensive review process over the last several months helped to inform the new draft. The new document includes a detailed introduction about the goals of the standards and a new section on the eight characteristics of transformational school leaders, including that they should be growth-oriented, collaborative, ethical, equity-minded, and innovative.

Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for CCSSO, said she hoped all educators would take the time to comment once the new version is released next week.

“We want to make sure we get these standards right before they are finalized,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as New Leader Standards Kick Up Controversy

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