HJR 20/SJR 58: Commission to Review, Study and Reform Educational Leadership

September 20, 2002

Finding Qualified Leaders

At its third meeting, the commission received testimony from Gene Bottoms, senior vice president, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), who examined recruitment and retention of principals, promising practices, preparation and training, and related issues. Citing six specific strategies to attract more qualified principals, Dr. Bottoms first suggested purposeful "tapping" of high-performing educators to become leaders, a practice that is typically more likely to be found in progressive, urban school systems. Currently, principals are somewhat "self-selected," as individuals may pursue graduate degrees in school administration for a variety of reasons; some may be motivated to do so to receive higher pay while remaining in an instructional position. Contrasting this self-selection process is a system in which high-performing teachers are identified and "groomed" for the principalship; this system allows school divisions to "grow their own" candidates rather than rely on an available pool that may not be qualified for the particular positions. Institutions of higher education also figure prominently in the self-selection process, as admissions criteria rely on academic record, standardized test scores, and the candidate's ability to finance graduate education. Dr. Bottoms suggested the creation of a more collaborative process, involving input from those who can attest to the applicant's "record of accomplishment and demonstrated leadership."

Noting that licensure or certification as a principal is not necessarily indicative of a candidate's qualification for the principalship, Dr. Bottoms cited Kentucky's screening process for "Highly Skilled Educators" that included a portfolio, interview, and observation process; Mississippi's one-year sabbatical supporting university training; and efforts in Delaware and Arkansas to recruit minority candidates. Actions supporting a "tapping" include incorporating a portfolio and structured interview process, the use of assessment instruments, release time for participation in on-the-job learning, tuition stipends and matching grants, collaborative efforts between higher education and school divisions to identify and select potential leaders, and incentive pay for principals in low-performing schools. Dr. Bottoms also encouraged states and school divisions to revisit policies that provide increased pay for teachers who receive degrees in administration but never become principals. Incentives for principals to serve in low-performing schools also merit consideration, as increased accountability for school performance makes these positions less attractive to candidates.

The second strategy urges the redesign of leadership preparation, assessment, and evaluation measures to reflect the core functions of curriculum, instruction, and student achievement. While some institutions may simply superimpose a "matrix" of accountability requirements on their current education leadership course offerings to determine any gaps in their respective programs, a substantive redesign may be required to enhance focus on student achievement. Courses in school law, finance, personnel, and facilities may still prove helpful but may not require the degree of emphasis currently granted in many preparation programs. Citing specific progress in leadership preparation programs at East Tennessee State University, the University of North Texas, and Oklahoma State University (where focus on curriculum and instruction has increased from one-twelfth to one-third of the total program), Dr. Bottoms noted collaborations between institutions and school divisions and external audits of university programs (Delaware) to shift focus from management to instructional leadership. Alignment of preparation standards with evaluation standards is also needed. Recognizing that schools of education are proven "moneymakers" for universities, Dr. Bottoms noted that reconstitution of leadership programs may meet with some resistance, especially if changes necessitate added expense.

Also addressing leadership preparation programs is the third strategy, encouraging internships as the central focus of these redesigned programs. Effective internships would ensure that the intern is not simply a set of "spare hands" or a shadow, but an actual problem-solver in instructional issues. Collaboration with local school divisions in crafting internships as well as the integration of internships throughout the preparation program, rather than as a "capstone," were also urged. Finally, funding for mentors, collaborations, and leadership program redesign was noted.

The fourth strategy encourages the creation of a two-tiered licensure system, in which the initial license is issued upon completion of the preparation program and passage of a technical knowledge examination, and the professional license is granted after a demonstration of practical knowledge and skills within a leadership position. Such a performance-based system shifts focus from quantity to quality of candidates and will likely require more resources than does the current single-tier licensure model. State leadership academies might provide support for principals in the induction phase. A one-year on-the-job induction component for professional licensure of principals is already in place in Kentucky. Similarly, Arkansas and Louisiana have adopted orientation and induction initiatives.

Addressing the candidate pool, the fifth strategy suggests expanding eligibility for initial licensure to those persons holding a master's degree, demonstrating leadership skills, and possessing a proven record of increasing student achievement. Implementation of this strategy would necessitate the creation of an alternative procedure for certifying those candidates who possess a graduate degree and strong instructional performance, but who do not hold a degree in administration. Louisiana, for example, offers an alternative licensure option that incorporates a customized preparation program for eligible candidates holding a master's degree and satisfying competency screening. In Oklahoma, a "completely open" process allows master's degree holders who pass subject area and principal examinations to become principals. This route, however, does not screen candidates for leadership qualities and demonstrated skills in improving student performance. Texas allows principal preparation to be provided by local school divisions as well as universities. Additional suggestions for enhancing the candidate pool include rethinking the roles and duties assigned to assistant principals and teacher leaders to more adequately prepare them for the principalship; often these personnel are assigned "books, buses, bathrooms, and buildings" and receive little opportunity for gaining experience in instructional leadership.

Finally, the sixth strategy supports the creation of state leadership academies that target efforts in low-performing schools. These efforts would address teams from schools, rather than one leader, and might address a single challenge over time, such as remediation or use of data to improve school performance throughout the year. Leadership academies might also craft programs that would assist not only in professional development, but also in obtaining credits for licensure. Academy efforts should be evaluated for effectiveness in improving student achievement. Louisiana and Alabama have leadership academies targeting low-performing schools.

Strategies for Principal Recruitment and Retention

Strategy 1: Tap high-performers with demonstrated knowledge of curriculum and instruction and with a passion for getting students to meet high-achievement standards.

Strategy 2: Redesign leadership preparation courses, assessment and performance measures to meet standards that emphasize the core functions of the school curriculum, instruction and student achievement.

Strategy 3: Make field-based experiences a central focus in redesigned leadership preparation programs.

Strategy 4: Create a two-tiered system:

Initial licensure: Complete a program focusing on core functions of the school and demonstrate technical knowledge.
Professional licensure: Demonstrate ability to work with school staff and others to improve school and classroom practices and student achievement.

Strategy 5: Open initial licensure to a candidate with a master's degree, demonstrated leadership skills and a proven record of increasing student achievement.

Strategy 6: Create state leadership academies that focus on teams from low-performing schools and on continuous and comprehensive school reform.

Dr. Gene Bottoms, Senior Vice President, Southern Regional Education Board (SREB)

Task Force Activities

The assistant superintendent for teacher education and licensure at the Virginia Department of Education briefly updated the commission on the activities of DOE/SCHEV Task Force to Evaluate and Redesign Preparation Programs and Professional Development for School Leaders. Led by the superintendent of public instruction and the director of the State Council of Higher Education, the task force will explore a variety of existing and recommended strategies for preparing K-12 education leaders. Already, six issues have come to the forefront in task force deliberations: (i) the use of internships; (ii) the existence of a principal shortage despite the fact that the supply of endorsed individuals exceeds the number of education leadership positions; (iii) the lack of collaborative partnerships between university preparation and the hiring school divisions; (iv) real as well as perceived barriers to the principalship; (v) the role, purpose, and intent of approved preparation programs and their impact on performance; and (vi) the relationship between the community, the task force, and educators. The task force expects to make tentative recommendations in the spring, with recommendations to the commission and VCU's Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute later in summer 2003. While it is anticipated that the commission will address legislative and policy issues, the task force will focus more on regulatory and policy concerns.

As the work of the commission and task force unfolded, efforts of the Department of Education to implement assessment of principals based on the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards have been placed on hold. In 1998, the Commonwealth's preparation of principals shifted from a coursework focus to a competency-based process. A passing score, however, is still required on the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA); however, a full-time internship as a principal or one-year of successful, full-time principal experience may be substituted. The ISLLC standards were adopted in Virginia, and a 100 percent match was determined between those standards and the SLLA.

Defining an "internship" for purposes of endorsement in administration remains a challenge. Standards for these internships to ensure a valuable training and "hands-on" experience are needed, as some individuals serving "full-time" internships nonetheless hold other employment simultaneously.

An alternative route for licensure for superintendent allows the candidate to hold a master's degree, have "held a senior leadership position such as Chief Executive Officer or senior military officer." Discussion focused on the employment of such "nontraditional" candidates as superintendents in large urban school divisions such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. In contrasting the principalship with the superintendency, members cited the principal's role as instructional leader and the superintendent's managerial duties.

Issues for Further Study

Members discussed potential recommendations and issues for further study. The 2001 Virginia Principals Study was cited as clearly documenting a shortage of principals in Virginia. Addressing supply and demand concerns, the study's associated survey revealed that 56 percent of principals and assistant principals intend to retire within nine years.

The commission declined to make any specific recommendations at its September meeting. However, its discussion focused on a variety of areas, including requiring training in data-driven decision-making, strategic planning skills, and communication and management. The commission noted that licensure and related regulatory changes were better left to the Board of Education at this time.

In considering related candidate pool issues, the commission discussed program accreditation and alignment of training with "real world" issues and further examination by the Board of Education, SCHEV, or other entities of the effectiveness of principal and superintendent education and training programs in preparing educational leaders for the increasingly challenging issues facing public schools in the 21st century. Accountability for training programs as well as a field-based component in principal licensure were also discussed. Again, the commission deferred any specific action at this time, as the work of the BOE/SCHEV task force continues.

Mentoring also received commission focus, as members cited the possibility of requesting the board and the state council to develop, as part of its approved programs, guidelines for mentorships. Standards for internships as well as payment for mentors were also discussed. Leadership academies also garnered attention; the Department of Education has recently written a grant for funding such an academy in the Commonwealth. The commission will await the results of the grant application before making recommendations on this issue.

Also discussed was modification of board regulations to allow teaching experience in higher education to satisfy the current teaching requirement for individuals holding doctorate degrees in education administration to obtain a superintendent's license. Current regulations limit the required teaching experience to the K-12 classroom. The commission noted the possibility of making such a modification, but requiring an internship or practicum in the K-12 classroom for these individuals. It was noted that such alternative teaching experience would be less appropriate for principals, who must be the school instructional leader.

The commission considered requesting the Board of Education and the State Council of Higher Education to coordinate to ensure that the performance and leadership standards described in the board's Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers, Administrators, and Superintendents are reflected in preparation and training programs for principals and superintendents in institutions of higher education. Currently, evaluation criteria for principals, assistant principals, central officer personnel, and superintendents are based on five areas: planning and assessment; instructional leadership; safety and organizational management for learning; communication and community relations; and professionalism.

The commission plans to continue to consider a range of issues as it moves toward the conclusion of its first year of study and develops potential recommendations for the 2003 Session of the General Assembly. Such topics may include incentives and disincentives, such as credit for out-of-state service and revised staffing levels. Currently, the SOQ staffing levels for elementary school principals and assistant principals is one half-time to 299 students, and one each full-time at 300 students. The 2002 JLARC Review of Elementary and Secondary School Funding (February 2002) recommended that the Board of Education "should examine the Standards of Accreditation provisions for assistant principals and the use of half-time principals at elementary schools with enrollments below 300 pupils" (see Table 1).

Table 1:
Comparison of State and Locally Funded Instructional FTEs
with Position FTEs Recognized by State Standards

JLARC Review of Elementary and Secondary School Funding, Table 16 (February 2002)
Instructional Position No. of State and Locally Funded Positions No. of Positions Based on SOQ Standards % Actual Positions Exceed SOQ Positions


Assistant Principals
Elementary Teachers
Secondary Teachers
Guidance Counselors

Source: JLARC staff analysis of the JLARC survey of school divisions, FTE data reported for the Annual School Report to DOE, and JLARC staff execution of DOE's SOQ model using 1999-2000 pupil counts.

Other issues that may garner future commission review are incentive rewards for exceptional service, portability of benefits, transfer of sick leave, relocation or housing incentives, and compensatory time. Flexibility and hiring authority, potential job-sharing and delegations of authority, additional assistance for struggling schools, professional development concerns (such as sabbaticals and incentive grants), and annual performance evaluations for probationary and continuing contracting principals may also be reviewed.

The commission's next meeting is scheduled for October 18 in Richmond.


The Hon. Phillip A. Hamilton

For information, contact:

Kathleen G. Harris
Division of Legislative Services


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