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Leadership-Development Policy

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For more than 35 years researchers and policy analysts have been calling for changes to professional-development programs for preparing school leaders. Since the late 1990s, several key publications have forcefully made the point that fostering conditions for student learning requires broader and improved leadership-development programming – including ensuring that programs are rigorous, well-funded, subjected to assessment and serving those with the desire and intellect to be great leaders. Hale and Moorman (2003), for example, asked how state policies shape the talent pool; evaluated the state of leadership-development programs; and urged specific changes. More recently, Levine (2005) criticized university-based and alternative school-leadership-development programs while suggesting nine criteria for judging the efficacy of these programs.

Many, including Levine; the Broad Foundation and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (2003); and policy analyst Frederick M. Hess (2003) have concluded that it is qualifications – not certification – that empowers one to lead. “The point is not that nontraditional leaders should be preferred to seasoned educators,” writes Hess. “It is that licensure systems routinely make it prohibitively difficult for schools to garner the benefits of a diverse leadership team and to tap into skills not conventionally prevalent in education.”


Policymaking responsibilities for preparing school leaders are ultimately held by the states, which have established licensing, certification and re-certification requirements for school leaders. Systemically the expectation is that educational-leadership and professional-development programs will, in turn, shape their programmatic offerings to ensure their graduates are prepared to meet these state requirements. The task thus falls on state officials to ensure that the educational policies they enact engender a culture of leadership and effective leadership-development processes among and across agencies, programs and sectors.

The challenge faced by policymakers, therefore, is to introduce guidelines and requirements that will facilitate leadership-development programs in producing the greatest possible number of high-quality school leaders. So far policymakers have focused their efforts in three distinct areas:

Standards- and performance-based reforms seek to improve student performance by addressing what school leaders should know. This standards-based approach is best exemplified by the widely promoted Council of Chief State School Officers’ ISLLC standards, which are “based on the premise that the criteria and standards for the professional practice of school leaders must be grounded in the knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning.”

Another approach, championed by AEI's Hess and others, holds that policy changes that increase accountability by introducing more flexibility in both hiring and performance are keys to bettering schools and school leadership.

A third approach, centered on outcomes, focuses on what acts school leaders should be able to carry out to ensure student success. It is worth noting that many educational-leadership programs now blend one or more of these approaches as part of their curriculum.

Thus there are many variables that state officials must consider as they create and revise state school-leadership policies:

•What is being taught in educational-leadership programs?
•What do aspiring, in-service and experienced school leaders need to learn and be able to carry out to have the most impact on student achievement?
•What admissions and hiring policies promote the best crop of school leaders?
•Which standards of practice are appropriate, and how can they influence student success?


Whether based on standards, accountability or outcomes -- or a mix of the three -- policies that promote leadership-development programming for in-service and aspiring principals institutionalize the need for change and, like the move toward higher standards for America’s young learners, raise the bar of expectations for what a school leader must know and be able to do. This, in turn, serves to fulfill the principal goal of America’s principals: leadership for student success.

By fostering a climate in which quality traditional and alternative principal-preparation opportunities are readily available, education policymakers can ensure that our nation’s schools are steered by qualified, visionary leaders.

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