The authors claim that, taken collectively, graduate programs in educational administration seem to have little or no influence on the attributes that characterize effective schools. This is not a trivial claim, as they point out.
During the 1980s a number of reports addressed the notion of "excellence" in education. All these reports concluded that American schools suffered from numerous ills, though the remedies proposed differed somewhat. Nevertheless, perhaps the most common recommendation was that, if schools were to be improved, principals would have to become effective instructional leaders.
Since much of the impetus for school improvement was thought to derive from the actions of principals, we should not be surprised to observe a strong interest in the preservice training of school administrators. Recently, much of the discussion surrounding that training has centered on the merits of various pedagogical techniques and delivery systems.(1) Although these analyses offer useful insights into the features of existing and emerging programs, they tend to obscure a prior question: Why should we believe that the best way to become a good administrator is by going to graduate school?
Clearly, most educators and policy makers subscribe to this belief. And nowhere is the supposition of the efficacy of graduate training more apparent than in state requirements for principal certification. In 1994, 45 states required prospective principals to obtain at least a master's degree (or equivalent coursework) prior to appointment. Professional associations have also called for considerable increases in the training required for a license to practice. Indeed, the National Policy Board for Educational Administration has recommended that building-level administrators be required to hold a doctorate in school administration.(2)
Before we seriously consider requiring such extensive preparation of our school managers, perhaps we should ascertain the likely efficacy of the training. After all, graduate training is expensive for the individual who undergoes it, for the institution that provides it, and for the society that requires it. The costs borne by the individual include not only readily identifiable direct expenditures (e.g., tuition and books) and indirect expenditures (e.g., transportation and meals), but also the cost of foregone employment opportunities. While opportunity costs are difficult to quantify and required cash disbursements are dependent upon whether a graduate student is enrolled on a full-time or part-time basis and whether the institution is public or private, the potential magnitude of the costs borne by the candidate should not be ignored. Moreover, there are the largely hidden nonmonetary costs imposed on families and employers when a teacher or administrator enrolls in graduate school.
Similarly, the costs to universities may be high. In a study of preservice administrator training programs in California, researchers estimated that the direct and indirect costs of these programs greatly exceeded the tuition and fees collected.(3) When that occurs, educational administration programs draw down the resource pools of the institutions that offer them. In so doing, they make less likely the provision of other - perhaps more beneficial - programs.(4)
There are also costs to the society that mandates preservice preparation programs for administrators. To the extent that tuition does not cover program costs, taxpayers subsidize graduate programs in educational administration. Further, the costs to the public may be manifested in more subtle ways than in the annual tax bill. For example, raising training requirements increases the cost, both in money and time, of entering the profession and so might cause the attractiveness of the profession to decline. Those who are unwilling to incur the cost of an advanced degree will decline the "opportunity" to earn one. It is possible, then, that the requirement that principals obtain graduate degrees in educational administration could decrease the quality of the applicant pool. …