Important questions about school leader preparation

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

A lot of folks have been asking important questions about school leader preparation lately. The most recent issue of AASA’s The School Administrator magazine profiles four key concerns.

Are school leadership programs any good?

Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, angered a number of folks with his 2005 report, Educating School Leaders, which was a scathing indictment of university educational administration programs. In this issue of The School Administrator, he and Diane Dean continue the theme that most school leader preparation practices are out of sync with the needs of schools:

The mission of the field is confused; the curriculum and degrees
awarded have little relevance to practice; clinical experience is weak;
the faculty is overly dependent on adjuncts and insufficiently involved
with schools; admission and graduation standards are low; and research
is of poor quality.

Do we have too many school leadership preparation programs?

In her article, Margaret Terry Orr chooses to focus on the growth of educational leadership doctoral programs and the resultant impact on quality and student selectivity. Orr notes that the growth has occurred mostly in smaller regional universities:

[T]hese programs lack the institutional resources, breadth and
history of other universities to support a doctoral program. New
programs are more likely to start up with fewer full-time dedicated
faculty members and be more reliant upon adjunct faculty. They may be
less able to develop more advanced-level coursework, offer more diverse
specialized course options, support research and research skill
development or have other educational developments in their
institutions that would enrich their content. . . . [As smaller]
institutions expand both doctoral program availability and number of
admissions, access becomes less competitive. But does greater access
diminish the value and quality of the degree?

Should we be skeptical of superintendents who don’t have an education background?

Tim Quinn, managing director of the Broad Foundation’s Superintendents Academy, writes about preparing effective leaders for large urban school districts.
Although teachers and principals often are wary of non-educator
superintendents, Quinn notes that running a large district can be
similar to running a large, multinational company:

It takes strong leadership skills to successfully run an entity
as large and complex as an urban school district, much less turn around
one that is low-performing. Most people don’t realize many urban school
systems are as large as the biggest companies in America. The New York
City Department of Education, with a budget of nearly $13 billion,
ranks among the top of the Fortune 500 list in terms of size, alongside
companies such as Sun Microsystems and Continental Airlines. Many urban
districts have more employees and larger budgets than any other entity,
business or government in their city. Urban school district leaders
have a massive scope of responsibility. . . . [M]ost current
educational leadership programs are not preparing leaders – whether
traditional or nontraditional – to handle the realities and complex
challenges of leading an urban school district.

Can school leaders be prepared effectively online?

In the issue’s final article, Patti Ghezzi writes about online doctoral programs for school leaders.
Although school systems and traditional university programs tend to be
skeptical about the quality of online leadership preparation programs,
participants often claim that their coursework is more rigorous than
anything they’ve done in face-to-face graduate study:

One critic, Thomas Glass, a professor of educational leadership
at University of Memphis who tracks superintendent trends, believes
online programs run by online colleges cannot prepare educators for
executive-level positions in a school district. “They are definitely
second class or third class.” . . . Leaders at the institutions now
offering online doctoral degrees say their programs are as rigorous, if
not more so, than programs at bricks-and-mortar universities. They
contend their electronic classes emphasize practical skills and
applicable research over education theory and say their instructors are
practitioners who understand the public education landscape better than
tenured professors who may be decades removed from working in school
settings. . . . Dolly Adams, a lead teacher for gifted education in
Richmond, Texas, who is working on her Ed.D. in educational leadership
[says,] “You’re not sitting in a lecture listening to a professor who
likes the sound of his voice.”

As the new coordinator of the Educational Administration program at Iowa State University,
I obviously am concerned with effective leadership preparation
practices. If you are too, I encourage you to read one or more of these
articles. Then, since there’s no discussion area at AASA, come back here and give us your two cents. There’s plenty of fuel here for discussion!

P.S. In addition to these four interesting articles, you also should
make it a priority to track down a copy of Joe Murphy’s phenomenal
article in the April issue of Phi Delta Kappan regarding the disconnect between university educational leadership programs and the needs of practicing administrators.

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