Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Role Expectations of the District Superintendent: Implications for Deregulating Preparation and Licensing

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Role Expectations of the District Superintendent: Implications for Deregulating Preparation and Licensing

Article excerpt


Roles assumed by district superintendents have been evolving for more than 100 years. As the position became more complex and demanding, the vast majority of states set policies requiring these administrators to complete a prescribed professional studies program and subsequently to obtain a license to practice. Over the past two decades, however, two opposing views have emerged addressing a growing concern that entry requirements do not address the realities of practice. One of them, expressed primarily by critics from within the profession (e.g., Cooper, Fusarelli, Jackson, & Poster, 2002; Murphy, 1994), advocates reforms that would make preparation and licensing more practice-based and rigorous. The other one, expressed primarily by critics from outside the profession (e.g., Broad Foundation & Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2003; Hess, 2003), advocates deregulating preparation and licensing so that local school boards would be given the option of employing executives from outside of education.

The drift toward deregulation began in the mid-1980s as a byproduct of the intense criticism of public education made by political and business elites (Kowalski, 2004). Now several decades later, 9 states no longer require superintendents to possess a license and among the remaining 41 states, 21 have provisions for issuing waivers or emergency certificates. Moreover, 15 states allow or sanction alternative routes to licensure (i.e., other than university-based study) (Feistritzer, 2003). The most recent call for national deregulation is found in the publication, Better Leaders for America's Schools: A Manifesto, issued by the Broad Foundation and Thomas B. Fordham Institute in May, 2003. Presenting largely opinions and anecdotal descriptions, it refers to university-based preparation programs and state licensing standards as meaningless hoops, hurdles, and regulatory hassles. The composers declared, "For aspiring superintendents, we believe that the states should require only a college education and a careful background check" (p. 31). The report also declares that many prominent business executives and retired senior military officers will serve as school superintendents if they are able to bypass professional preparation and licensing. Even though these convictions are presented without evidence, they can have the effect of reinforcing doubts that education is a valid profession. Some scholars (e.g., English, 2003a; 2003b) have argued that efforts to remove professional preparation from the university are driven by the profit motives of those who want to provide alternative forms of preparation and are part of a broader agenda designed to dismantle the country's public elementary and secondary education system.

At this juncture when policymakers are being asked to choose between deregulation and reform, problems affecting the superintendency need to be framed appropriately and policy decisions need to be based on evidence and not raw politics or emotion. Deregulating a profession clearly is a serious matter that is prudent either when the need for the state to protect the public from practitioners is no longer valid or when the underlying knowledge has been found to be fraudulent or irrelevant (Kowalski, 2004). This paper identifies role expectations and position requirements that have evolved for school district superintendents over the past 100 years. These expectations and requirements are then analyzed to determine if they remain valid to contemporary practice.

Conceptual Framework

The national policy debate on deregulating the profession is focused on two assertions: that state licensing standards are irrelevant to successful practice and that university-based professional preparation programs have failed to meet the mission of ensuring that public schools have effective leaders. These allegations merit analysis from both political and professional perspectives and therefore, each context is summarized. …

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