Academic journal article Education Next

Lifting the Barrier: Eliminating the State-Mandated Licensure of Principals and Superintendents Is the First Step in Recruiting and Training a Generation of Leaders Capable of Transforming America's Schools

Academic journal article Education Next

Lifting the Barrier: Eliminating the State-Mandated Licensure of Principals and Superintendents Is the First Step in Recruiting and Training a Generation of Leaders Capable of Transforming America's Schools

Article excerpt

IN THE EARLY 1990S, IBM HAD FALLEN ON HARD TIMES. THE LEADER of the personal-computing revolution was losing billions of dollars a year and looking for a new CEO. Observers were aghast when the board of directors recruited Lou Gersmer, CEO of RJR Nabisco and veteran of the food and tobacco industries. Critics insisted that his lack of experience running a technology concern would leave him at a "huge disadvantage," wrote Doug Garr in a 1999 book about Gersmer's tenure, because the computer business "moved at a faster pace than other industries; competition came from ... fanatics who thrived in the often quirky and murky world of digital chaos." It was believed that managers in the high-tech field needed both business savvy and technical skills. Gersmer was seen as woefully unprepared.

By the late 1990s, IBM was again a highly profitable technological innovator. Gersmer was hailed for engineering, as the subtitle to Garr's account, IBM Redux, put it, "the business turnaround of the decade." Might another CEO, especially one with more experience in technology, have done better? Possibly. Were the concerns about Gersmer's lack of experience valid? Sure. However, the larger lesson is that Gersmer provided what IBM needed--a CEO "who could penetrate the corporate culture and change the company's insular way of thinking and operating."

Likewise, consider Meg Whitman. Formerly a brand manager at Procter & Gamble with an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School, Whitman was hired in 1998 to lead eBay, the ubiquitous Internet auctioneer. Concerns over Whitman's lack of familiarity with the Internet were initially widespread, but her marketing experience proved invaluable as eBay became one of the few web pioneers to actually turn a profit. Gersmer and Whitman aren't even unusual examples; businesses often turn to leaders from outside their industries.

Recruiting outsiders has become more common in K-12 education, at least at the superintendent level. In recent years, urban school districts from New York City to Seattle have hired candidates from outside education to lead their schools. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of superintendents, school district officials, and school principals rise through the ranks the traditional way--first as teachers, then as assistant principals, principals, and then up to the district office. Many of them make fine leaders. But the fact is that the traditional route to K-12 school management is not serving the nation well. The public school system suffers from a lack of effective managers at both the school and the district level. In 2002, Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said," Five years ago, the pool of good superintendents was fairly shallow, and I thought it was as bad as it could get. I was not nearly pessimistic enough. It's gotten worse." In turn, 60 percent of superintendents in a recent Public Agenda survey agreed that they have had to "take what you can get" in hiring a school principal. The problem is not a lack of warm bodies, but an artificial shortage of individuals with the skills, training, and knowledge to lead modern schools and school systems.

The shortage is artificial in the sense that state laws needlessly limit the supply of principals and superintendents. More than 40 states require would-be principals or superintendents to acquire a license in school administration in order to apply for a job. Typically, attaining licensure as a principal requires three or more years of K-12 teaching experience, completion of a graduate degree in educational administration, and an internship (see sidebar on p. 16). In several states, candidates are also required to pass the School Leaders Licensure Assessment, an exam designed to check whether the applicants hold professionally sanctioned values and attitudes. The licensing of superintendents involves similar requirements (see sidebar on p. …

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