Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Dispelling the Myths and Confirming the Truths of the Imminent Shortage of Principals: The Case of New York State

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Dispelling the Myths and Confirming the Truths of the Imminent Shortage of Principals: The Case of New York State

Article excerpt

Introduction and Background

Recently, there have been numerous accounts of the increasingly large number of available school leadership positions, many of them principalships (e.g., Jordan, 1994; Moore, 1999; Adams, 1999; ERS, 2000; O'Connell, 2001). At the same time, anecdotal reports from many practitioners indicate that the applicant pools for these positions have been small and filled with under-qualified individuals, which makes policymakers increasingly concerned about an imminent shortage of school leaders.1 Unfortunately, there are not enough studies providing systematic, policy-relevant information about the career choices of school leaders and prospective school leaders on which to base some important policy decisions. For example, we do not know the number of individuals who are certified to be principals and who are currently employed in our schools, nor do we know much about their attributes and qualifications as compared with current principals. Consequently, we do not know whether there is likely to be a shortage of principals-we only know that there is an increased demand for school principals.

If there are certified individuals able to fill vacant principalships, why are there reports of small and under-qualified applicant pools for these positions? Some practitioners suggest that the baby-boomers have effectively clogged the pipeline leading to school leadership positions, thus impeding the advancement of younger, certified individuals. This could mean that many of these younger individuals have not yet had an opportunity to gain experience in lower-level administrative positions and, as a result, they are not interested in nor prepared for a principalship.

At the same time, many researchers (e.g., Whitaker, 1998; Moore, 1999; Fennell, 1999; Adams, 1999; ERS, 2000; Lankford, O'Connell, & Wyckoff, 2003) point to increased responsibilities, stress, and longer hours without compensatory pay as a likely cause of the small and underqualified applicant pools-i.e., because of these demands, fewer apply, and those who do apply are less likely to be highly qualified individuals because such individuals are more likely to have other, more attractive options. In other words, many individuals who are certified to be school administrators consider the current incentive structures for these positions to be inadequate, and as a result they are not entering leadership positions.

Unfortunately, schools may have reasons to oppose efforts aimed at changing the incentive structures. Because it is difficult to disentangle the relative impact of the factors relating to student outcomes and other measures of school effectiveness, it is very difficult for schools to quantify the cost-effectiveness of these factors. As a result, the changes needed to induce more and higher-quality individuals into administrative positions may not be seen as cost-effective.

Yet, the need for qualified principals is imperative. Many studies (Bossert, Dwyer, Rowan, & Lee, 1982; Hallinger & Murphy, 1986; Andrews & Sober, 1987; Zigarelli, 1996) indicate that school principals affect student outcomes. Also, much of the recent literature on school reform has focused on gaining a better understanding of the organizational behavior of schools and the ways in which school leaders can affect student performance (Hanushek, 1997; Hoy & Miskel, 2001; Owens, 2001). Results strongly suggest that school-level change in the ways schools are led and managed provides the greatest likelihood of success in improving the effectiveness of schools. An increased focus on the ways in which schools are led and managed amplifies the importance of attracting and retaining high quality principals, especially in low-performing schools.

In all likelihood, increased resources are required to change the current incentive structures associated with entering and remaining in the principalship ranks. For example, increased salaries for principals might be an effective means with which more, high quality individuals could be induced into a principalship. …

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