- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Public schools should be able to choose principals and superintendents for their ability to manage and achieve results, as businesses and the military do, 65 education-reform leaders said yesterday in a manifesto calling for changes in state certification requirements nationwide.

Signers of the document, titled “Better Leaders for America’s Schools: A Manifesto,” said allowing experienced business managers and executives without traditional certification to fill school leadership positions will produce positive results.

“Our public education system confronts a leadership famine amidst a feast of ‘certified’ leaders,” said the manifesto issued to state and federal government policy-makers. It calls for legislative action to slash bureaucratic requirements for principals and superintendents based on education background.

“This unhappy situation results from a flawed arrangement that annually confers administrator licenses upon thousands of educators who have scant interest in actually serving as school superintendents and principals and who, even when interested, often lack the exceptional leadership qualities so urgently needed in today’s schools.”

The nation’s education colleges “rely for their livelihood on state certification,” but would have to adjust to new demands for better school leaders, said Steven Adamowski of the University of Missouri at St. Louis, former chief executive officer of Cincinnati public schools.

“We’re moving to a more performance-based system,” he said in a discussion of the proposals at the University Club. “The transition here is going to be difficult. It’s going to be bloody.”

The report said only one-fifth of 58 school superintendents in the Council of the Great City Schools are “nontraditional,” including those now serving in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade County, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, and Toledo, Ohio.

California now allows educators to become principals faster by passing a test rather than having to take additional university courses for two years.

The manifesto was signed by former U.S. Education Secretaries Lamar Alexander, now a Republican senator from Tennessee, and William J. Bennett; many college education professors and former deans; scholars and education-policy experts. It was published by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute with funding from the Eli Broad Foundation of Los Angeles.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, said university education departments “are fairly weak.” Today’s urban school environment is so challenging, he said, that military institutions such as the National War College “do a lot of interesting leadership and management training and use urban schools as case studies.”

While military people are often great school leaders, “Army and Air Force generals are better than Marines,” Mr. Casserly said to laughter from the audience.

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said, “There’s a little bit of a wave — an interesting wave that’s rising” in behalf of recruiting noncertified school leaders from the corporate, professional and military sectors. “Nobody’s happy with the leadership their schools have,” he said.

Frederick Hess, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said teachers unions will throw up roadblocks out of “bald self-interest.”

“They are professional associations who see the changes as a direct threat,” he said. “People who teach in the schools of education see it as a direct slap in the face.”

The same groups initially opposed alternate certification of teachers when the reform was first pressed several years ago in New Jersey, Mr. Hess said.

“The risks were dramatically overstated. At the end of the day, people who had voiced these overblown and frenzied critiques now favor alternate certification programs.”

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