Education Funding

Foundation to Expand State Project On School Leadership

By Jeff Archer — January 07, 2004 3 min read
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The Wallace Foundation is expanding a 3-year-old initiative aimed at crafting state policies that better support the work of principals, superintendents, and other local school leaders.

Through its State Action for Education Leadership Project, the New York City- based philanthropy plans to award a total of $24 million in a new round of three-year grants to as many as 20 states by this summer.

Launched in 2001 with $8.9 million from the foundation, the project so far has supported teams of officials in 15 states in rethinking how their laws and regulations affect the ability of school leaders to improve student learning. That initial work, highlighted at a meeting of grantees here last month, has shaped policy changes in several participating states, particularly in the area of administrator licensure.

“I think the results of the last three years have confirmed what we’ve said all along,” said Tom Houlihan, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “States have an important role to play in creating an environment—both the policy environment and that inside the schools—that allows leadership to grow and flourish.”

Mr. Houlihan’s Washington-based group leads a consortium of national organizations that manages the Wallace project. The others are the Education Commission of the States, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Governors Association.

Within participating states, the initiative seeks to build sustained support for a policy agenda around addressing the needs of education leaders by bringing together key government and political figures, along with state education associations, district leaders, and administrator- preparation programs.

“It isn’t that people didn’t know before that leadership was important, or that the people running the schools really make a difference in improving student learning,” said Elizabeth Pauley, an official with the Massachusetts Department of Education who coordinates the state’s grant under the Wallace effort. “But this has made it a priority, and it’s made sure all of the players are there.”

Improved Pipelines

In one example of how states are dealing with the issue, Massachusetts has retooled the way it licenses principals over the past two years. To earn an initial state certificate, administrator-candidates must now complete portfolios in which they provide evidence of having mastered state standards for school leaders.

To open up new avenues into the profession, Massachusetts recently dropped its requirement that all new administrators earn graduate degrees by allowing the option of completing an internship under an experienced school leader. The state also has approved several new administrator-preparation programs run by school districts.

“It’s strengthening the pipeline,” said Ms. Pauley, “and making sure the people in the pipeline are both licensed and ready.”

Among the new policies adopted by other states involved in the first three years of the Wallace project:

  • Kentucky created an apprenticeship aimed at encouraging members of minority groups to become superintendents.
  • Rhode Island passed a law requiring districts to give principals professional development on the state’s standards for student achievement.
  • Iowa adopted new rules for approving administrator-preparation programs that put greater emphasis on giving candidates practical field experience.
  • New Jersey approved a measure making it easier for licensed administrators to transfer their credentials there from other states.

The other states in the project’s first phase were: Connecticut, Georgia, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia. All have been invited to submit proposals for the initiative’s second phase, when the foundation plans include up to five more states. The application process for new states begins this month.

While much of the project’s work to date has dealt with recruitment and training, organizers say they expect future projects to focus on creating the right work climate for leaders to be successful.

“We need very qualified, effective leaders,” said Richard Laine, the director of education programs at the Wallace Foundation. “But we also need to put them in conditions that enable them to improve instruction.”

Among its other related philanthropy, the Wallace Foundation is underwriting coverage of school leadership in Education Week.

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