Thoughts on Indiana’s Changes to Superintendent Licensure Policy

Indiana legislation (HR 1357) passed in 2013, permits local school boards to hire superintendents without licensure or previous training and experience in schools or educational leadership. The bill passed with the tie-breaking vote of the state’s lieutenant governor. It was the first time an Indiana lieutenant governor passed a tie-breaking vote in eight years. Previous state law required that superintendents hold a teacher’s’ license and hold state certification as a superintendent. Superintendents can now be hired in Indiana with a temporary license. The new law does require, however, that superintendents have a minimum of a masters degree. To date, no Indiana school boards have hired a superintendent who does have superintendent licensure.

One question that has been raised is how the change in superintendent certification requirements would affect other legislation which requires the evaluation of all certified employees of school boards. Would HR 1357 also require the formal evaluation of superintendents, even non-licensed ones? My guess is that in Indiana, as in other states which allow local school boards to hire superintendents with temporary licenses, superintendents would still be formally evaluated by school boards. Since advocacy for this policy change has come from advocates that also support high-stakes accountability for teachers and leaders, it is not likely that they would support waiving evaluation requirements for non-licensed superintendents. However, if I am incorrect, and the covert plan of this policy’s advocates is in fact to undermine the evaluation of superintendents, my hope is that Indiana state law would be changed to require the evaluation of all superintendents, those with permanent licensure and those without it.

The major underlying question with this issue is whether in fact there is benefit to requiring licensure for educational leaders, and in this case in particular, licensure for school superintendents. My answer to the question is that it depends. If we are talking about high-quality preparation/licensure programs for educational leaders, then I wholeheartedly believe there is great benefit to preparation programs for educational leaders. If, however, we are talking about poor-quality programs that serve the primary function of bringing in tuition dollars for colleges of education, then a non-licensed superintendent can be just as good/effective or better than one who has earned licensure. I do believe functioning as an effective superintendent requires expertise in organizational leadership and administration, and some expertise or depth of understanding about instructional leadership. An individual may very well possess those qualities, however, without holding superintendents licensure. I guess the just of it is that preparation does matter if it is good preparation. But the reality in educational leadership preparation is that state professional standards boards across the U.S. continue to permit poor quality programs to operate; that reality must change. If poor quality programs are not rooted out, leaving the public to wonder whether there is any benefit to preparation programs and licensure for educational leaders, educator licensure (for leaders and teachers) will be a thing of the past in a very short time period.

Should state legislatures proceed in the style of Indiana and remove licensure requirements for superintendents? I am not sure yet. But for states that do make the decision to move forward in this vein, they should do so with caution. Serious conversation on these issues has to continue across the now huge divide between reformers and traditionalists. Currently, most serious conversation happens only within camps, and tremendous opportunities for the development of good policy are lost because we are not having open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations that involve representatives of all the various stakeholder groups.


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