State issues draft of new rules for principal preparation programs

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In late September, the Illinois State Board of Education released draft 
rules raising the standards for principal and assistant principal 
preparation. Now, the rules face public comment, and some universities 
have pledged to oppose them.

In late September, the Illinois State Board of Education released draft rules raising the standards for principal and assistant principal preparation. Now, the rules face public comment, and some universities have pledged to oppose them.

A bill mandating the standards was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in June.

One major change: Principal candidates’ required year-long internship, which does not have to be full-time, now has no minimum number of hours attached to it.

At one point, the state planned to require four weeks of full-time experience in a school, plus 200 additional hours of part-time work.

But school districts balked at the requirement, worrying that they would have to cover the costs for substitutes to replace teachers on their internships.

“They just worried [about] who paid for it,” says Erika Hunt, project coordinator for Illinois State Action for Education Leadership at Illinois State University. “If this legislation had been passed five years ago when the economy was good it’d be a much different scenario out there.”

In a survey released by Learning Point Associates, cost was a deciding factor in whether district superintendents supported or opposed full-time internships for principal candidates. When superintendents were told not to think about the cost, nearly three-fourths said they supported full-time, year-long internships. But when they were asked to consider cost, nearly three-fourths opposed the idea.

Then, the state proposed setting principal candidates’ minimum number of internship hours at 800, but universities were strongly opposed to the idea.

“There’s no question that it’s a compromise position,” says Steve Tozer, who coordinates the doctoral program in urban educational leadership at the University of Illinois – Chicago. “Everybody agrees the right thing to do is require a one-year, full-time paid internship. [But opponents] say the state doesn’t have funds to do it, and it would be an unfunded mandate.”

Yet, Tozer notes, the earlier proposals ran the risk of merely requiring candidates to put in hours.

“They decided instead to focus on what the experiences of an internship should include, and not make it an hours game,” Tozer says. “It’s the next best thing.”

Instead of having to serve a minimum number of hours, principal candidates will have to meet 13 principal competencies by taking part in 36 specific activities related to the standards.

For example, principal candidates will be required to show that they can “obtain support from the central office and from community and parent leaders for their school improvement agenda.”

To demonstrate that skill, they will have to work with teachers to communicate with the district’s school board and community members about school improvement; and work with teachers, parents and community members to build support for their ideas.

To show they can “acquire and use resources wisely,” principal candidates must obtain resources for the school they intern at by writing grants or developing partnerships. They must also do scheduling work at their school – and demonstrate that the changes they make have maximized student learning.

Joanne Rooney, who directs the Midwest Principals’ Center (a professional development provider), is not happy with the state’s new tack.

“I can’t teach you how to swim until you’re in the water,” she says. “Being a principal is a human endeavor… [it includes] relationships with multiple types of people in different situations. You don’t learn that by checking off lists.”

She says that even the state’s original plan would not have been enough to prepare principals well. “A full year’s internship would be enough,” she says. “But unless someone’s going to donate a whole bunch of money, that can’t happen in the real world.”

Even so, an Illinois State Board of Education memo acknowledges that the new law will make preparation more costly for all–candidates, university programs and school districts.

Other provisions include:

*Principal candidates must spend at least 20 hours attending meetings on developing Individual Education Plans for special education students, 40 hours working with special education teachers and 40 hours working with bilingual teachers.

*Candidates can’t count activities that don’t relate to instruction – like supervising students at lunch or at recess – as part of their internship.

*Universities and nonprofits like New Leaders for New Schools must jointly administer the programs with school districts, and draft documents outlining the responsibilities of each entity. Depending on what agreements are reached, school districts can – but don’t have to – have a hand in selecting and assessing principal candidates, and training the professors or nonprofit staff who supervise them.

*Each program must have at least two full-time faculty members, and at least one full-time faculty member for each 50 students. Full-time faculty must teach at least two-thirds of the program’s courses. This rule will limit the number of candidates programs are able to admit, Hunt says, so schools can focus on quality rather than quantity. “If they are going to be admitting these many candidates [as many programs are now], they are not going to be able to meet these outcomes,” she says. During the spring 2009 school year, she notes, the state granted nearly 10 times as many Type 75 administrator endorsement (3,002) as the number of principal vacancies in the state (342).

Another new provision, not mentioned the bill, is the establishment of an independent panel to review principal preparation programs. Before programs’ applications go to the State Teacher Certification Board, panel members – including  teachers, administrators, superintendents, and others – will recommend whether the state should approve a program or not.

“A trend in many states is they use external reviewers, because this process can be very political,” Hunt says.

The rules aren’t final yet. Many universities stand to lose from the changes, and they are hoping the rules change before being finalized.

Jeri Nowakowski, president of the American College of Education, said in a statement that the increased cost of the program would limit candidates’ access. “In the end, the pool of potential principals will be limited and potentially less diverse,” she said.

The current system, she notes, offers more opportunities for teachers who do not plan to become principals – a group that includes one-fifth of the CPS teachers in the college’s program, which is largely delivered online.

James Rosborg, director of graduate education at McKendree University, says he supports requiring an internship and strengthening principal preparation overall.

But he has a problem with the idea of requiring candidates to get four years of teaching experience before they enter a program. “Now, the individual will have to have 7 years of experience before they can [become a principal],” he says.

After teachers receive initial certification, he notes, they often meet the professional development requirements to receive standard certification by taking three college classes. But now, they won’t be able to count principal preparation classes toward that requirement.

In addition, principals who supervise interns must have four years of experience (as well as data showing they have boosted student achievement), rather than two years. “I am a retired superintendent, and I could tell you in two years if a principal was going to be outstanding or not,” he says.

And, he notes, the limits on adjunct professors will prevent his program from being able to employ a former Illinois deputy governor, a state board of education, and award-winning former principals and superintendents. “You’re going to tell me that a full-time professor is going to do better in the classroom than those professionals?” he says. “The state should not be involved in personnel hiring.”

Finally, he says, current principal-preparation programs are often required by districts for deans of students, assistant superintendents, curriculum directors, athletic directors and department chairs. “Fifteen years down the road, they’re not going to have enough candidates,” he says.

Tozer, on the other hand, predicts that as principal-preparation programs become more rigorous and specific, districts will no longer require them for other positions.

“You wouldn’t design a principal-preparation program… that meets the needs of deans, department heads, and athletic administrators, any more than you would design a medical program that is good for doctors, nurses and medical staff of all sorts,” he says.

Despite the law’s compromises, Tozer says the new rules are “a very significant step forward” in principal preparation.

“We don’t know of a more cost-effective lever for improving student learning at scale than putting these kinds of principals in schools,” Tozer says.