Becoming a School Administrator
Public school administrator's responsibilities have greatly increased since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. Besides the coordination of a school or school district's day to day operations, administrators are now responsible for providing instruction leadership that will raise students' academic achievement levels to meet annual yearly progress goals. Besides the formal training gained from a school leadership program, new administrators should also make use of induction programs, mentoring opportunities, and professional support groups as they settle into their positions. These practical supports can connect theory to practice and help new administrators navigate the challenges of managing a school or district.
Keywords Adequate Yearly Progress; Induction; Mentoring; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Principals; Professional Development; Reflection; School Leadership Programs; School Superintendents
A school principal's job is more complex than ever before (Archer, 2004; Institute for Educational Leadership [IEL], 2000, as cited by Grubb & Flessa, 2006). Besides their traditional duties of hiring and firing instructors, coordinating bus schedules, dealing with parents, disciplining students, overseeing the cafeteria, and supervising special education and other special programs (Grubb & Flessa, 2006), they are now also expected to provide instructional leadership (Cotton, in press; Leithwood, Louis, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004; Stein & Nelson, 2003; Tillman, 2005, as cited in Grubb & Flessa, 2006). Additionally, some principals are also expected to develop support services for low-income students (National Research Council, 2003, as cited in Grubb & Flessa, 2006). Every school has its own history, environment, and unique employees. Therefore, new principals need to be able to quickly assimilate into their new workplaces, manage an incredible workload, and learn their schools' unique protocols. If they are former teachers, new principals may also find it rather disconcerting to transition from a peer relationship with teachers into a supervisory relationship (Lashway, 2003a).
Principal's responsibilities have greatly increased with the 2001 passage of the The No Child Left Behind Act. The act mandates that states set annual measurable objectives “based on the percentage of students performing at or above proficiency. These standards are used to determine if schools, districts, and states make annual yearly progress” (Linn, 2005, p. 91). If the percentage of students passing state tests is insufficient, schools have not made adequate yearly progress. “Sanctions are imposed on schools not meeting their annual yearly progress two years in a row, and the consequences are increasingly severe for schools not meeting targets for third, fourth, and fifth years in a row” (Linn, 2005, p. 91). Students may be transferred to other schools, staff may be replaced, the state may take over the school, and federal funding may be withdrawn (Linn, 2005). States and the federal government put accountability for achieving No Child Left Behind Act mandates at the school level (Lashway, 2003b), putting enormous pressure on school principals to meet annual yearly progress levels.
In the past, students who majored in leadership administration programs have typically earned their degree, obtained a job, and only then received occasional professional development. That has changed in recent years with stakeholders realizing the importance of providing professional development opportunities on an ongoing basis. Another way new principals are being transitioned into their job is through participation in an induction period during which they receive mentoring and other structured support (Malone, 2001, as cited by Lashway, 2003b). Although professional development and induction had been primarily sponsored by local school districts, more and more states are supporting these types of programs by requiring principals to obtain additional certification that can include mentoring, reflection, and portfolio development (Lashway, 2003b).
School Leadership Programs
According from the most recent statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, most school principals have at least a master's degree, although it there is a great deal of variation between the public and private sectors. In the private sector, about 33% of principals had not earned a master's degree compared to only 1% of public school principals (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996).
With the nation currently enmeshed in such a high-stakes environment, principals are facing a high degree of pressure to perform. New principals are faced with challenges not addressed in their schooling, and principals who have been in the profession for many years may not have the skills now required of them. Nevertheless, principals are charged with delivering student success, and expectation that may require them to undergo additional training. One study found that 69% of school principals and 80% of school superintendents felt that school leadership programs do not accurately reflect the reality of managing a school or school district (Farkas et al., 2001, as cited in Lashway, 2003b). Over 85% of both school principals and superintendents think that revamping leadership programs would help improve leadership, but no research has been conducted on the subject of improving leadership programs (Lashway, 2003b). A 2001 survey of 450 principal certification programs found that only 6% of the programs reviewed the personal qualities most desired in today's principals, and only 40% listed teaching experience as an entrance requirement (Creighton & Jones, 2001, as cited in Lashway, 2003b).
Choosing a Program
For prospective principals and school district administrators trying to select a school leadership program, several factors should be considered to assess a program's suitability. Some of these factors hinge on whether or not:
• The purpose of the program is explicitly stated and relevant to the prospective student's needs;
• The curriculum mirrors the program's stated purpose and is rigorous in nature;
• The curriculum effectively balances theory with practical experience;
• The faculty includes professional instructors as well as practitioners still working in the field;
• The admissions criteria are rigorous and relevant; and
• The program is fully accredited and practices continual self-assessment (Assam, 2005).
In 2005, a four-year study was released that focused on the outcomes of students who participated in school leadership programs in the United States to determine if these graduates would be adequately prepared for the challenging situations in which they would find themselves. The report, Educating School Leaders, which was part of the Education Schools Project, followed national surveys of alumni, deans, faculty, and principals, including 28 detailed case studies (Assam, 2005). Assessing each program's core curriculum, admissions policy, instructor quality, practical training opportunities, and self-evaluation efforts, the study found that only one school demonstrated its ability to effectively train new administrators (Assam, 2005). Accordingly, these six components of school leadership programs need to be re-assessed (Assam, 2005):
• Core Curriculum. The core curriculum in most programs is comprised of abstract survey courses that are not integrated with actual leadership practices professionals encounter once employed.
• Admissions. School leadership programs tend to admit almost anyone who applies, and applicant's standardized test scores are among the lowest of all students pursuing any kind of graduate degree. The researchers believe this is because many of the students attending these programs have no interest in working in school administration: they just want to earn graduate credits to improve their instructor's salary. Because their leadership programs are so lucrative, schools accommodate these students by making...
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