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Report Calls for Overhaul of Administrators Programs

A report on existing graduate education programs says they do a poor job of training school leaders by not providing rigorous coursework or supporting mentored internships. The system needs overhauling, according to the author, Dr. Arthur Levine. Included: Suggestions for retooling graduate education programs.

Administrators, academics, and professional organizations said a report critical of graduate education programs raises valid points, but should not portray all schools in a negative light.

Prepared by Dr. Arthur Levine, president of Teacher's College, Columbia University, independent of the college, the report,Educating School Leaders, argues that most masters and graduate education programs are "inadequate to appalling" and fail to provide educators with the practical experience they need to be effective in leading modern schools.

"Many of the university-based programs designed to prepare the next generation of educational leaders are engaged in a counterproductive 'race to the bottom,' in which they compete for students by lowering admission standards, watering down coursework, and offering faster and less demanding degrees," according to the report's executive summary.

"This downward trend is exacerbated by state and school district policies that reward teachers for taking courses in administration whether or not the material is relevant to their work, and whether or not those courses are rigorous," the summary continued. "Additionally, many universities treat leadership education programs as 'cash cows,' using them to bring in revenue for other parts of the campus and denying them the resources that might enable them to improve."

Ed.D vs. Ph.D.

The study also recommended that colleges eliminate the doctor of education degree (Ed.D), saying it is "unnecessary for any job in administration" and is no indication one is prepared for administration. The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in school leadership should be reserved for educators planning on conducting research, according to the report.

The Ed.D and Ph.D degrees should be replaced with a new degree called a master's in educational administration, patterned loosely after a master's degree in business administration, Dr. Levine wrote. Requirements for the new education master's degree would include courses in management and education, as well as practical, mentored experience.


Besides not providing potential administrators with enough clinical or on-site practice, too many programs fail their students by hiring instructors without recent teaching or administrative experience and offering degrees and encouraging research that have nothing to do with administrators' daily work or helping children learn, the report said.

Standards for admission often are low, because many colleges view education courses as a steady revenue stream and want as many people as possible to enroll, according to the report. Teachers who have no plans to become administrators often take random graduate courses to qualify for salary increases, it noted.

"There is huge variability in the quality of these programs, but Dr. Levine is probably correct in his conclusion that far too many are not as good as they should be," said Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford University School of Education, which shares the top ranking for schools of education with Harvard University. (Source: U.S. News & World Report) "But there is a context that needs to be explained. Schools of education are often seriously under-resourced -- they are expected to prepare hundreds of teachers and administrators with very few resources."

Stipek added she has no concerns about Stanford's ability to train high-quality administrators. "Stanford is very different from most of the schools Dr. Levine studied, she said. "In fact, the draft of the report that I saw specifically named Stanford as an exception. Our teacher preparation program is small, well supported by Stanford, and exemplary."


In conducting the four-year study, Dr. Levine surveyed faculty, deans, alumni, and principals and prepared 28 case studies. The report is the first of four Dr. Levine is working on for a series called the The Education Schools Project.

"He appears to have accumulated a significant amount of research to support his position," said Paul Young, a retired principal and past-president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) . "I think it depends on the continuum of where you are within preparation programs, the locale within the country There are some fine programs in various universities, then, as he describes, some that are very poor. It should be no surprise that if for 50 years American public education has attracted those with lesser skills, then that pool of talented leaders is limited. There are correlations with the training given teachers to that of administrators."

Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of NAESP, said he and others in professional organizations endorse the need for more hands-on experience for potential administrators.

"Without onsite or job practical experience, they [administrators] come in totally unprepared for the job," Dr. Ferrandino told Education World. "We should be encouraging districts to provide mentoring to administrators for the first few years."

Dr. Ferrandino, Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, and Dr.Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, released a joint statement responding to the report, agreeing with key points.

"Many university preparation programs are not based in the reality of school life or reflect the massive demands that school leaders face today," said the joint statement. "There is a disconnect between what is taught and what practitioners need. Many classes are taught by scholars who have never -- or have not recently -- been in a classroom or a superintendent's office."

While it is true many teachers accumulate graduate credits to get salary increases and not to enter administration, that is partly due to the way society regards teachers, the statement reads. "Here we must point out that if our teachers were respected and paid on a scale with professionals in other countries and in equally demanding fields, they would not have to collect 'green stamps, which can be traded in for raises' or get promotions 'merely for accumulating credits and degrees,'" according to the statement.

At the same time, the administrators' statement criticized the report because it "paints all preparation programs with the same brush."

"We believe that educational leadership programs that are accredited through the Educational Leadership Constituents Council (ELCC) under the auspices of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) are adequately preparing leaders for today and tomorrow's schools."

Too few colleges are seeking that accreditation, unfortunately, the statement added.


"Without onsite or job practical experience, they [administrators] come in totally unprepared for the job. We should be encouraging districts to provide mentoring to administrators for the first few years, " says Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP).
Several administrators told Education World that the practical training they received in graduate school was the most valuable part of their programs, and many graduate programs need revisions to meet the changing responsibilities of administrators.

"A hands-on training provided by my mentor when I was a teacher preparing for a principalship has been the greatest asset to me," said Marguerite McNeely, principal of Hayden R. Lawrence Middle School in Deville, Louisiana. "A class in school law has proven to be invaluable to me, but the other courses have served me no use. The report has much merit since our profession tends to focus on instruction over hands-on involvement."

Supervised internships should be in all administrator preparation programs, added Young.

"We need more emphasis on the internships, and funding to support quality teachers to be enticed into preparation programs and eventual administrative positions," Young told Education World. "Programs need more hands-on, real world experiences. Mentoring needs to begin while an aspiring administrator is in an internship and continue through the first critical years of administrative service --- maybe throughout a career.

"Additionally, there is a need for time and money for them [administrators in training] to be released from their duties to work with master principals or superintendents who step forward for mentor training," he continued. "Mentoring for administrators must become commonplace like it is for teachers, but the mentoring programs must be structured for administrators' needs, and the participants trained, and mentors must be rewarded financially for their investment of time."

Coursework remains important, Young noted, but colleges may need to modernize it to reflect the changing duties of administrators. "Don't throw out all of the classroom rigors. But ensure that the teaching at the university is realistic, of high quality, and relevant to the current challenges of the jobs."

"I tend to agree that the programs need an overhaul to meet the demands of today's society," said Larry Davis, principal of Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida. "We need to align the thinking of the schools with the thinking of the federal government and the No Child Left Behind Act."

When he earned his master's degree, Davis said, the program emphasis was on curriculum and managing finances. Now the financial matters are automated and handled at the district level. "Today administrators deal with discipline or parent concerns over half of the school day. New programs need to be introduced to meet these needs."

Les Potter, principal of Silver Sands Middle School Port Orange, Florida, who earned masters and doctoral degrees and has taught at the college level, said he thinks the programs he worked with try to balance theory with practice. "We [as professors] have spent countless hours in trying to figure out ways to improve the programs, by adding more relevant classes, from administration for special education to more meaningful practicums."

In terms of his work as a principal, Dr. Potter said that preparation programs served him well. "My programs did get me to read, to investigate, to think, to be proactive, to have knowledge of what I was going to face this is all I could ask of any program."


Some are wondering what changes in education programs the report will trigger, even at Teacher's College, and how fast programs might change.

"Could universities do better? Sure, but in what ways does Dr. Levine suggest to improve the programs?" Potter said. "I would be interested to see if Dr. Levine and Teachers College do away with their Ed.D. program. I do believe the Ed.D. could be more challenging if necessary but maybe require earning the educational specialist (Ed.S.) degree, which has good coursework, prior to receiving the Ph.D.or Ed.D."

Teacher's College is reviewing some of its program, but has no plans for radical changes, said Joseph Levine, head of external affairs for the college. "There is no move at Teacher's College to do away with the Ed.D.," said Levine (no relation to Dr. Levine). "We told students we stand by the degree. Dr. Levine did the study as an independent researcher, and included recommendations only. He met with faculty, and there are changes that need to be done, based on the market. Things are status quo, but we could be reviewing programs."

Expectations for the graduate programs need to be considered as well, said Stanford's Stipek "To some degree, we get what we pay for," she told Education World. "The other consideration is that it is ludicrous to expect people to be prepared for these incredibly complex and demanding jobs in a year or two. I suspect that if doctors and lawyers were trained in such a short time with so few resources, we would find that they were inadequately prepared for their jobs."

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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