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Standards and Accountability in Schools


The essays in this chapter focus on the issue of how best to recruit the very best administrative talent to leadership positions in schools. For years, the accepted practice has been for school leaders to be prepared through traditional school administration programs with higher education institutions. These programs, almost exclusively housed within colleges and schools of education, consisted of a range of courses from school law to school finance, often with associated and embedded field and clinical components. The focus on school leader preparation has emerged in partial response to the No Child Left Behind legislation. Clearly, there are expanded expectations regarding what principals can and should be able to do in order to be effective as school leaders. Critics of traditional preparation programs, such as Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, argue that far too little of the principal preparation curriculum focuses on accountability while far too much deals with issues that simply do not create opportunities for principals to understand how to use data and how to effectively evaluate the personnel who report to them.

Critics such as Hess and others expect principals to be able to use data in ways that will help them manage school programs so that all students are able to achieve to their full potential and so that every teacher can be productive in terms of fostering essential and necessary student academic growth. The critics challenge whether traditional programs have been able to keep pace with the educational demands that are a part of a competitive, globalized economy. Whether such critics "have it right" is debatable, but what both critics and advocates of traditional programs agree on is the fact that the principal is absolutely critical to the success of any school program. Teachers need a school leader who understands how to manage a complex educational environment.

The question remains about how best to prepare such school leaders, which serves as the focus for this chapter. This is not the first time that there have been serious and ongoing efforts to upgrade the quality of administrator preparation, but even with current and previous efforts, serious concerns have surfaced as to whether traditional programs can really deliver to PreK-12 schools the intellectual talent needed to foster educational excellence. Some critics believe that the real solution to the problem is to bring persons with business degrees into schools who understand how to operate, manage, and market businesses. Indeed, some universities around the country are now working through their business schools to prepare individuals who have interests in taking their business degrees into educational environments for the purpose of serving as principals or school leaders.

Emmy L. Partin and Jamie Davies O'Leary, from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, make the case that more nontraditional, nonuniversity-based options are needed. They argue that programs run by charter management organizations or selected non profits, such as New Leaders for New Schools, create new vehicles for attracting talent to school leadership positions that simply are not being evidenced through traditional, university-based programs. In addition, Partin and O'Leary assert that many of the nontraditional options place emphasis on preparing administrators for some of the nation's most poorly performing schools, where the need for quality school leaders is most pronounced. Theodore J. Kowalski from the University of Dayton takes a different view. Kowalski is one of the nation's thought leaders in terms of school leader preparation practices. He has concerns that the "alternatives" will deprofessionalize school leadership at precisely the time when more professional skills and understandings are required by those assuming the difficult responsibilities associated with school administration. Kowalski perceives that, in general, no shortage of administrative talent exists in the United States and that traditional programs are much better suited to address the preparation demands that are currently found in the educational marketplace.

These two essays capture in a significant way much of the active and substantive debate currently found in the professional literature about how to ensure that the nation secures the school leaders it needs. Everyone agrees that school principals and district superintendents are critical ingredients to educational excellence. What these two essays highlight is the very different approaches that policymakers and practitioners have taken relative to how best to recruit and train the next generation of school leaders. In reading these two essays, consider the following questions. First, will emerging alternatives really deprofessionalize what it means to be a school leader? Second, if it is really essential to have the right people in a leadership position, how should schools best recruit the talent they need? Finally, is the key to recruiting more professional principals paying them more so that you attract better quality or training them differently so that they are assured of possessing skills they need for success?

— Thomas J. Lasley II, University of Dayton

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Thousand Oaks, CA



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