WebExtra: Tougher hurdles in the works for aspiring principals?

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Principal preparation programs would have to meet new standards under recommendations to be presented next month to state lawmakers by a task force that examined principal preparation across Illinois.

The recommendations are expected to be presented to the Legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich in mid-February by a task force convened last fall to develop a plan for strengthening principal leadership. The group, created by the Illinois State Board of Education, includes representatives from universities, school districts, principal and education groups, state legislators and private principal preparation providers. For a list of the task force members, click here.

The group also is considering whether to recommend that prospective principals serve a year-long internship. One private, non-profit principal preparation organization, New Leaders for New Schools, already requires a year-long residency.

The task force relied on at least two earlier reports in preparing its recommendations. One report, “School Leadership Preparation: A Blueprint for Change,” issued in 2006, identifies major challenges facing Illinois school leaders and what needs to be done to help them. The other, released in 2005 by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, looked at the inadequacy of principal preparation programs across the nation. (See Catalyst, June 2005.)

Faye Terrell-Perkins, executive director of CLASS at the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association and a member of the task force, says state Supt. Christopher Koch asked the group to “come up with a doable plan” to improve principal preparation. “He asked that we take it to the next step. He’s said, ‘We’ve talked about it. Now what are we going to do about it?'” she says.

Limit Type 75 certificates

The task force is expected to recommend changes to the Type 75 certification, which is required of those seeking to be a school administrator in Illinois. Among them: Issue Type 75 certificates only to aspiring principals. (The task force is still working out other changes it will recommend.)

Terrell-Perkins says many teachers seek a Type 75 to increase their salary or move up the teaching career ladder, not because they want to become principals. Last year, the state granted 4,000 Type 75 certificates, but fewer than 500 of those were issued to candidates who later became principals at schools across the state.

“We’ve raised the question, ‘Should we have a different level of certification for those who just want to move up the career ladder?'” says April Irvin, another task force member and executive director of New Leaders for New Schools.

Current guidelines require Type 75 candidates to have a minimum of two years’ teaching experience and a master’s degree. In addition, they must pass a basis skills test, an administrator’s test and complete a state-approved educational administration program.

Debate over the year-long internship centers on concern that such a stringent requirement would prove to be a hardship for smaller, Downstate school districts.

“You’d have to serve a residency like you do in the medical profession,” says Terrell-Perkins. But superintendents in small rural districts where there might be only one school would have a hard time fulfilling that requirement.

“We have to work this out,” Terrell-Perkins says.

Who can train?

Finally, the proposal would outline standards for principal preparation programs and spell out which institutions would be endorsed to provide them.

The 2006 report identified six weaknesses in Illinois’ programs, including outdated curricula and inadequate clinical instruction that does not support what principals need to know, especially in urban schools.

“The quality of the programs has been uneven,” says Terrell-Perkins. “There were no standards.”

Another question is how many programs are needed, Irvin says. “Does it make sense for every university to have a principal preparation program?”

Still being debated is whether universities should be the sole provider of principal preparation, or whether private providers also should be included.

“We’re not nervous,” says Irvin. “The blueprint is directly aligned to what New Leaders does now. And if there are standards and assessment criteria and you [meet those] and can prove that you can produce high quality principals, I believe you don’t restrict that.”

For more on the work of the task force, visit the Illinois Board of Higher Education Web site.