Category Archives: Principal Preparation

Educational Leadership Preparation in Kentucky: A Race to the Bottom?

This week I am attending the International Symposium on
Educational Reform hosted by the University of Jyväskylä
in Finland. Yesterday I had a great conversation with a Finnish colleague who is preparing to assume the principalship at a school in the Jyväskylä
region of the country. Our conversation centered on the quality of educational leadership
preparation programs. He first shared with me that the government has limited
the number of higher education institutions authorized for principal training;
currently only three institutions may offer principal training in Finland. But
even among just those three programs, aspiring principals in Finland have an
understanding of which programs are most highly regarded and they typically apply to
those programs first.

When asked about the state of
affairs with educational leadership preparation in Kentucky, I shared quite a
few things. I included the recent state-required reform of educational
leadership programs across the state, including the requirement that principal
preparation occur at the post-masters level-only in Kentucky. I shared that at
the University of Kentucky we had redesigned our program with the input of
practitioner colleagues to be a rigorous, high-quality program, with work-embedded
assignments and courses co-taught with scholar-practitioners currently in the field. I
shared that our program was designed to be delivered in an executive-style format,
with Saturday on-campus meetings 5-6 times per semester and online and
independent work in-between on-campus meetings. I told him that our program was
designed to prepare aspiring leaders to be the change agents in education that
Kentucky desperately needs to turn the corner in student learning.

But I also had to share
with him a few unpleasant realities about educational leadership preparation in
Kentucky; realities which contrast considerably with how Finland has approached educational leadership
preparation. I told him that the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB )
has chosen not to limit the number of higher education institutions in the
state that may offer principal preparation programs. As a result, I told him, Kentucky
has an oversupply of principal preparation programs; in fact, considerably more
programs exist than there is either need or demand for programs. Kentucky’s EPSB has approved principal preparation programs at 11
higher education institutions in the state. For comparison sake, Finland has a population of
5.3 million people and three programs leading to principal licensure; and
Kentucky has a population just under 4.4 million people and 11 programs leading
to principal licensure.

But it is not the abundance of
principal preparation programs in the state alone that is so troubling. Two
confounding issues make the oversupply of programs a problem for Kentucky.
First, all of the state-approved programs are not rigorous, high-quality
programs. And who can best attest to the quality or lack of quality in
programs? Students and graduates of the programs can attest to it, and they do.
Most of the students and graduates of educational leadership programs in
Kentucky that I have come across have no problem with telling you whether their
program provides or provided solid preparation for the principalship. And it’s
been more than a few current school leaders that have told me flat out that
their preparation program was useless. That is a problem.

But here is what makes it worse.
Many of those same students and graduates will tell you that they chose their
preparation program not because they believed it to be a high-quality
program, but because it was the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to earn principal
licensure. That is an area that I do not believe has been explored by the
educational leadership research literature. While more than a few studies have
shown educational leaders criticizing their leadership preparation programs, I
am not familiar with studies that asked those leaders if they chose their
program based on its perceived high-quality. For if the findings of my non-systematic
data collection were confirmed (and I believe they would be), and principals in
Kentucky are in large numbers choosing the leadership preparation programs that
they perceive to be the cheapest/quickest/easiest way to get the certification,
then Kentucky’s schools are in a whole lot of trouble.

First, I do not believe it bodes
well that aspiring school leaders would think so little of their preparation for
administrative positions that they would choose programs in that manner. Second
but also very important, when aspiring leaders choose leadership preparation
programs based on ease, programs that need to enroll students to remain viable
begin to compete for those students by watering down program admissions
requirements, curriculum, and expectations; creating what my colleague Justin Bathon has referred to as a Race to the
Bottom
for leadership preparation programs. That, I fear, is what is
beginning to happen in Kentucky. And I fear that aspiring leaders choosing preparation
programs based on ease will have disastrous consequences for the state. Programs
in Kentucky that choose to compete for students will respond to the student market
by offering dumbed-down programs; and programs that refuse to compromise their standards
will go out of business as a function of the market. The result will be
Kentucky left with a generation of school
administrators that are certified, but ill-equipped to be the visionary and transformative
leaders that Kentucky schools so desperately need.

That, I told my Finnish colleague,
is where I believe educational leadership preparation in Kentucky may be headed;
but it doesn’t have to be that way. Kentucky’s EPSB can better regulate the market. EPSB’s bar for
program approval may be set too low. A higher threshold for program approval
with just a few high-quality programs in the state may be an avenue for the
EPSB to consider. Better regulation of the market would prevent current aspiring leaders from
choosing low quality options and forcing the entire market in that direction. But
in addition to EPSB responding to this potential crisis of school leadership, we
have to change the culture of the education professions to place a much higher
value on education, preparation, and professional learning. Preparation and
training are not just unnecessary hoops for educators to jump through; these
are opportunities for deeper learning and reflection so that educators can
improve what they do. It deeply troubles me that professional development for
so many Kentucky educators has been reduced to simply accumulating the minimum
number of hours required each year. It deeply troubles me that preparation and
certification programs are regarded by so many Kentucky educators as standing
in line to get their tickets punched so they can get the job that they think they
already know how to do. We must change the current seemingly dominant cultural
beliefs about professional learning in the education professions and/or change
the people that are going into the education professions. Finnish teachers and educational
leaders place great value on their continued learning and professional
development. That seriousness about their professional learning is one of the keys
to the Finns’ successfully improving educational outcomes for students across Finland.
Such an important cultural change could pay huge dividends for Kentucky as
well.

Secretary Duncan Set to Deal with Principal Preparation Reform

Education Secretary Duncan has begun to outline his agenda for President Obama’s second term, and principal preparation and evaluation seem to have a place of prominence. Duncan says that attention to principal preparation could come through the use of grant funds from Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA); these are funds that are to be used for professional development activities and school improvement. We do not have any additional details on what could be in store, but given what we have seen with the USDOE’s policy positions on teacher education, things could get pretty interesting.

New Years Resolution: Be Honest About Education 2012

As we start 2012 I propose that we all make the resolution that we begin to be honest with ourselves, and with our children, about education in America. For too long we have led ourselves and our children to believe untruths about schools, teachers, and our systems of public education. This ends for me today. For I believe the only way to move toward fixing our education uglies is to expose them. In that vein, I begin today with a exposing a few lies that we have continued to tell our ourselves and our children about education. Here are a few to get us started:

Lie #1: Schools are all about children.

The Truth: Schools are about money and adults too.
It is true that if there were no children there would be no schools. It is true that children are at the heart of many of the decisions we make in and about schools. But it is also true that P-12 education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in every state. Thousands of adults in every state are public school employees and state public school systems spend millions of dollars every year on contracts with vendors. All this is to say that schools are also the places where lots of adults work, and many of the decisions we make in and about schools are based not on what is best for children, but on what is most convenient for adults. Whether you want to call this truth good, bad, or ugly, it remains the truth.

Is there any way around this? Would it be reasonable to say that we can get to the point where all decisions in schools are made strictly on the basis of what is best for student learning? Probably not. But it is reasonable to set the goal that children’s learning will become our top priority when making decisions. It is reasonable to say that if a decision comes down to two choices: one option being better for student learning, and the other option being easier/more convenient/more lucrative for policy makers/school leaders/teachers, the clear choice would be the option that is best for student learning. We are not currently at that place.

Lie #2: We believe all children deserve a quality education.

The Truth: We do not.
This one is a pretty obvious fabrication. If it were true we would not continue to provide lesser quality education to students based on their socioeconomic background/neighborhood. The vast majority of children in the US who live in more affluent neighborhoods have a higher quality educational experience than children who live in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Children in lower income neighborhoods typically attend schools with poorer quality facilities, teachers who are less able to meet their needs, and lesser quality instructional and technological resources. Many factors contribute to this reality. A few of these factors are many teachers’ preference to not teach in predominantly low income and minority schools, teacher preparation programs failing to prepare aspiring teachers to meet the needs of low income and minority students, a failure to attract candidates into the teacher profession who would serve low income and minority students well, differential school funding, and outright neglect of resources in schools that serve predominantly low income and minority students.

Lie #3: All teachers are good teachers.

The Truth: Some teachers are completely ineffective.
The claim that all teachers are effective or even that all teachers have the potential to be effective is ridiculous and is an insult to the teaching profession. High-quality teachers are highly-skilled professionials with a mastery of both the academic content that they teach and the pedagogical skill necessary to effectively deliver that content to students. It is insulting to the profession to assume not only that anyone could do this, but that anyone could do this well. Many of our current crop of teachers are not effective teachers. Some of them have no desire to become effective teachers. These teachers should be relieved of their classroom duties immediately.

Lie #4: People become teachers because they love children.

The Truth: Some teachers/principals do it for the money.
I believe that the majority of educators went into the field because they care about children, but I know very well that this is not the case for a significant minority of educators. Contrary to popular belief, public school teaching is not the worst paying job in town. Some people actually do become educators for the money. The stability and benefits that come along with the profession are attractive to some people as well. Also, it might be a little less than pleasant for the general public to find out the number of teachers that majored in education because it was easier to get into and keep a job than the field they would prefer to be in.

What about the principalship? Well, some principals make really good money (really good)! That is attractive to some educators whether they believe they would be effective at the job or not. Higher education institutions have exacerbated this problem as many education administration graduate degree programs have become diploma mills, recommending principal certification to the state for any living breathing human being who pays two years worth of tuition. Worse still, some teachers go into school administration in an effort to work less directly with children.

Please join me in telling the truth about education in 2012. Being honest about our shortcomings in education is the necessary first step toward making things better, and I really want things to get better. Our children’s future depends on it.

Happy New Year!

Proposed Mandatory Teacher Selection Training for Principals in Kentucky (Senate Bill 124)

In an effort increase practicing principals’ capacities to select high quality teachers, Senate Bill 124 would require that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in collaboration with the Education Professional Standards Board develop a teacher selection training module that would assist principals with identifying “quality indicators” of effective teachers, including teachers’ verbal ability, content knowledge, quality of education coursework, ability to relate to students, and ability to monitor student learning through formal and informal assessments.

Although I question whether the state legislature should play such a micromanaging role in the training provided by KDE, I believe such training is useful. However, I am not sure that most practicing principals do not already possess the skills that this statutorily mandated training would provide, so I question the amount of money that would be spent at that state and local district levels by mandating this state training for all principals. Additionally, such a mandate presupposes that neither principal preparation programs nor local districts are already providing such training to principals and aspiring principals.

Finally, I would caution the legislature to consider that even having principals who possess these capacities, and I believe many principals already do, would not necessary result in higher quality teaching candidates being selected for vacancies. In many cases principals make decision to hire teaching candidates not because they are high quality teachers, but because they are the best candidate that has applied for the job. I am sure we can all appreciate the fact the best candidate for a teaching position, especially in hard-to-staff areas of the state, is not always a high quality candidate. I provide this word of caution simply so that legislators do not make the mistaken assumption that having all principals trained to “identify quality indicators of effective teachers” will result in a “high quality, effective teacher in every classroom.” It will not. Efforts to increase the capacities of the pool of teaching applicants across the state will go much further toward that end.

School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2009

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) have introduced the School Principal Recruitment and Training Act of 2009, which would create a federal grant program “to recruit, support, and prepare principals to improve student academic achievement at high-need schools.” Eligible applicants for grants would include a local educational agency; or a non-profit organization, educational service agency, higher education institution, or state educational agency that has a partnership with one or more local educational agencies.

The bill’s findings note inadequacies of present principal principal preparation programs, stating that “Principals need both management and instructional leadership skills to be effective. Yet most principal preparation programs fail to devote adequate attention and resources to training principals in instructional leadership.”

The actual bill is attached

Proposed Changes to Educator Preparation in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Education and Professional Standards Board are proposing changes to educator preparation that would require universities  to make significant changes in their education programs. The biggest changes include: (a) restricting universities to 30 semester hours of coursework in “methods”, (b) permitting anyone with a masters degree in any discipline to apply for a waiver from certification to become a superintendent, (c) permitting teachers who pass a “leadership test” to apply for a  waiver from certification to become a principal, and (d) allowing teachers to renew their licenses by taking professional development seminars offered by their school districts instead of having to take graduate-level college courses. If approved, Indiana’s changes could go into effect as soon as July 2010, causing university education programs to make major changes in a short period of time. 

Indiana’s department of education is attempting to step across the traditional boundaries that have separated the K-12 world and institutions of higher education. If approved, Indiana’s proposal would allow the state to dictate to universities what the curricula of their teacher education programs will look like. These changes will require programs to place a far greater emphasis on content courses while reducing the number of methods courses that students take. Additionally, the proposed waivers from principal and superintendent certification will  put into question the future of university educational leadership programs in Indiana.
If this proposal is approved, and it appears likely that it will be, questions arise concerning relationships between state departments of education and institutions of higher education. Traditionally, universities have designed their educator preparation programs without the interference of state departments of education. However, it is not beyond reason that this case could have a diffusion effect, with state departments of education across the US following Indiana’s lead.