Standards

School Administrator Standards Stress Leading for Learning

By Denisa R. Superville — September 23, 2014 6 min read
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A newly updated set of standards for school leaders—the first extensive review of the guidelines in six years—heavily emphasizes instructional leadership and focuses on the role of principals and other administrators in addressing factors outside of the classroom that impact student achievement.

The draft standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—or ISLLC—describe what principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and other district heads should know, and the critical competencies they should demonstrate, in order to run schools and school systems that graduate students who are ready for college and the workforce.

Spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, the “refreshed” standards released last week are meant to ensure that “the current roles of leaders as well as the current research are reflected,” said Michelle D. Young, the executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration. Ms. Young, a professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, also serves on the National Leadership Preparation Standards Committee.

Beyond Academic Leadership

While the revised school leaders’ standards focus heavily on instructional and ethical leadership, they also lay out in greater specificity an expanded role for principals and others in improving school climate, engaging the school community, and recognizing and embracing cultural diversity. Here are two of the expanded areas, as they appear in the draft document:

Standard 5: Community of Care for Students
An educational leader promotes the success and well-being of every student by promoting the development of an inclusive school climate characterized by supportive relationships and a personalized culture of care.

FUNCTIONS:
A. Ensures the formation of a culture defined by trust
B. Ensures that each student is known, valued, and respected
C. Ensures that students are enmeshed in a safe, secure, emotionally protective, and healthy environment
D. Ensures that each student has an abundance of academic and social support
E. Ensures that each student is an active member of the school

Standard 10: Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
An educational leader promotes the success and well-being of every student by ensuring the development of an equitable and culturally responsive school.

FUNCTIONS:
A. Ensures equity of access to social capital and institutional support
B. Fosters schools as affirming and inclusive places
C. Advocates for children, families, and caregivers
D. Attacks issues of student marginalization; deficit-based schooling; and limiting assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status
E. Promotes the ability of students to participate in multiple cultural environments
F. Promotes understanding, appreciation, and use of diverse cultural, ecological, social, political, and intellectual resources

Source: 2014 ISLLC Standards, draft for public comment

The ISLLC standards undergird educational, state, and district school leadership policies and form the basis for preparation programs, professional development, and evaluations. In addition to the ISLLC standards, the CCSSO and the NPBEA are working on the first-ever set of guidelines for principal supervisors, and are reviewing leadership preparation and accreditation standards. The end goal of the simultaneous reviews is to create a fully aligned set of expectations and duties that span the leadership pipeline. The group will also publish a toolkit to help administrators use the standards.

More Complex Jobs

ISLLC standards, first released in 1996, were last updated in 2008. In the years since, the duties, responsibilities, and expectations of school leaders, especially those of principals, have become more complex. To a large degree, those changes were propelled by state and federal policies, such as waivers from some provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top competitive-grant program, various initiatives focused on principal and teacher effectiveness, tougher assessments, and stricter graduation requirements.

“The primary goal of these standards is to articulate what effective leadership looks like in a transformed public education system,” according to the draft of the standards that was released last week for public comment. “The standards envision public schools that empower every learner to take ownership of his or her learning, that emphasize the learning of content and application of knowledge and skill to real-world problems, that value the differences each learner brings to the learning experience, and that leverage rapidly changing learning environments to maximize learning.”

The revised standards have increased to 11 from six. They include the broad categories from the 2008 version: vision, mission and goals, teaching and learning, managing organizational systems and safety, collaborating with families and stakeholders, ethics and integrity, and the educational system. But the new version is also cognizant of the volumes of empirical research and the tremendous emphasis in recent years on the social factors that affect education—such as growing up in poverty or speaking a primary language other than English.

In essence, school leaders are responsible not just for the stewardship of students’ intellectual growth, but also for ensuring that students are safe, that their cultures and languages are not marginalized, and that there are social supports available to students, according to Janice Poda, the strategic-initiative director of the CCSSO, and others interviewed for this article. To that end, categories such as “community of care for students,” “communities of engagement for families,” and “equity and cultural responsiveness” are highly visible in the new standards.

The revised standards are “very explicit about the complexity of the job and all the things that school leaders are dealing with, today, in 2014, and moving forward,” said Jacquelyn Kay Wilson, the director of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware, in Newark, and a co-chairwoman of the committee that oversaw the revision of the ISLLC standards.

Unpacking Expectations

In the previous version of the standards, instructional leadership was addressed mainly in a single section. Now, it is incorporated into three categories: instructional capacity, instruction, and curriculum and assessment. Each category delineates the functions that a principal or school leader should engage in. For example, under instructional capacity, school leaders are expected to recruit and hire effective teachers, ensure staff development, and provide “human, financial, and technological” resources to help the staff.

“What we have tried to do in this version of the ISLLC standards is to really begin to unpack what the expectations [are] for practice in a way that principals can have a much better sense of what they should be [doing] with their time,” Ms. Young said.

Four other categories address the care of teachers and students. In “communities of engagement for families,” school leaders are expected to create a culture that takes into account the “cultural, social, and intellectual diversity” of the schools and to build positive relationships with families. In “equity and cultural responsiveness,” school leaders are expected to address issues of “student marginalization; deficit-based schooling; and limiting assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status,” as well as promote cultural understanding.

“We have been talking a lot more about personalizing learning in order to help all students learn and to address the achievement gaps that we have in different groups of students,” said Ms. Poda, “and so the beginning of that is to think about understanding what those needs are, understanding the different cultures that students come from, and the next step would be to provide the kind of instruction they need in order to learn at higher rates.”

Ultimately, Ms. Poda said, the standards are about improving student achievement.

Academic researchers and representatives from practitioner organizations—such as those representing secondary and primary school principals and school administrators—participated in developing the standards. The committees reviewed research, state laws, and policies, and surveyed principals and others in the field, Ms. Poda said.

The standards are not mandatory. Some states adopt them as written, while others tinker with them to fit their states’ vision. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia adopted or adapted the last set of ISLLC standards. The others—Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas—created their own.

That is still an improvement, especially considering that there were no standards before 1996, according to Jody Spiro, the director of educational leadership at the New York City-based Wallace Foundation. The Wallace Foundation has donated $1 million to the CCSSO for the overall revision efforts. (The foundation also supports coverage of leadership, arts education, and expanded- and extended-learning time in Education Week.)

Ms. Spiro said she was pleased with the comprehensive nature of the process, which involved every major stakeholder group—from researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and the public, which for the first time will be able to comment and provide feedback through a survey before the standards are adopted. The public comment period will continue through Oct. 10, and the final standards are expected to be released early next year.

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2014 edition of Education Week as New Leader Standards Emphasize Factors Both in and Outside School

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