School & District Management

School-Leader Standards to Get More Revision

By Denisa R. Superville — June 10, 2015 6 min read
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Amid sharp criticism from experts and practitioners in recent weeks, a key set of professional standards that guide the training and professional development of the nation’s school leaders will now explicitly address equity, social justice, and ethical behaviors. An earlier draft was chided for downplaying the role of principals and other leaders in addressing those issues.

The about-face is a departure for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which owns the copyright to the standards and is partnering with the National Policy Board for Educational Administration to revise them. It also follows a 19-day public comment period in which nearly 300 people provided feedback in an online survey and others submitted written responses to the CCSSO.

When a draft of the seven standards was released last month, Chris Minnich, the CCSSO’s executive director, defended them against critics, saying that social justice, equity, and ethics were addressed in the document’s introduction and embedded throughout the standards. Mr. Minnich said at the time, however, that the CCSSO was open to revising the benchmarks based on feedback from the field.

The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, set the benchmarks for what school leaders are expected to know and do. They are used across the country to help guide leadership preparation programs, including those for principals and superintendents. They are also used to set policies and regulations around school leaders’ hiring, evaluations, and professional development.

Multiple Drafts

Equity and cultural responsiveness had been a discrete standard among 11 that were part of a September draft issued by CCSSO. Under that standard, principals were expected to advocate for children and families, attack issues of student marginalization, deficit-based schooling, and limit assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status.

So when CCSSO released its May draft, the removal of that standard caused strong pushback in the education leadership community, especially given the ongoing national conversation about poverty and race and the shifting demographics in American public schools to a student body that is increasingly nonwhite, low-income, and in need of English-language instruction. School leaders are also responsible for creating safe and welcoming learning environments for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

Without explicit standards to address equity and social justice issues, leadership training programs would graduate students “without ever challenging them to be aware of their own presumptions around race, much less make their schools equitable and inviting places for children of color and children of all kinds of differences that characterize our society today,” said Bradley W. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Mr. Davis was among six education leadership professors and education school deans who wrote a letter to the CCSSO seeking changes. More than 500 people, including professors, principals, and teachers, signed the letter. The September draft also contained a separate standard on ethical principles and professional norms, which was removed from last month’s version.

Mary-Dean Barringer, the strategic initiative director of workforce development at the CCSSO, said “there was a lot of encouragement” in the most recently public comment period to put functions related to equity and social justice into a separate standard. Similar comments were provided on ethical behaviors, Ms. Barringer said.

Process Revised

In what appears to be another effort to appease critics—who claimed that the tail end of the revision process had been cloaked in secrecy—a committee of education professionals, possibly including principals or representatives from principals’ associations and convened by the national policy board will hammer out the final standards.

The new set of final standards are now scheduled for release in the fall, Ms. Barringer said.

“There was clearly a lot of pressure put on [the CCSSO],” said Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of education leadership at Vanderbilt University and the author of the original standards, who was a critic of the May draft. “And I think they reflected on that, and I think that that pressure was effective in this case.”

Mark A. Gooden, the director of the Principalship Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said he understood the CCSSO’s goals in attempting to “weave” matters of equity through all standards, as it had done in the May draft. But Mr. Gooden, an associate professor, said that he’d rather see a two-pronged approach that would weave equity throughout all the standards and explicitly set it apart as a concrete standard.

Putting concepts such as race and gender in the standards pushes educators to name the problem and it increases the likelihood that they would tackle it head on, he said. And given the cheating scandal in Atlanta and its major fallout, addressing ethical behavior is critical, said Mr. Gooden.

Other education groups also weighed in. The ASCD wrote in a June 4 letter that the standards captured well the competing responsibilities of principals as instructional leaders and operational managers, but it also noted concerns about the absence of equity and ethical principles. Ms. Barringer, from the CCSSO, said the final revisions would reflect feedback and comments from the variety of education organizations that responded.

Overall, the feedback from the online survey was positive, with 77 percent of the 271 individuals who commented deeming the standards to be “good to excellent,” Ms. Barringer said, citing language from the survey.

Feedback also suggested that the language in the May version was clearer than the September draft, she said. And many appreciated the preamble on “transformational” school leaders who focus on student learning, continuous improvement, and creating inclusive school communities, she said.

Of the respondents, about 20 percent worked in higher education, some 60 percent were school-level administrators, and 11 percent were teachers, she said.

The May feedback was more constructive than what CCSSO heard last year, with many respondents following up with extensive comments and suggestions, she said.

Rob Larson, the director of the Oregon Leadership Network, for example, provided the CCSSO with examples of how Oregon since 2012 has embedded equity and cultural competency across all licensing and preparation standards. Mr. Larson said in an interview that meeting the needs of all students was part of the essential and important work of school leaders and that Oregon would continue to focus on cultural competency and equitable practices.

As a result of the delay in releasing the ISLLC standards—they were originally set to be published this spring—the first-ever set of standards for principal supervisors will also be pushed back, according to Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the CCSSO.

Ms. Barringer said the CCSSO will try to work concurrently on both the ISLLC standards and principal-supervisor standards to ensure that there is not a significant lag time between the publication of the two documents.

“We are going as fast as we can,” Ms. Barringer said, “but only as fast as we can get it right.”

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