Panel pushes principal standards

Southern states have made progress in developing better school principals, but the progress isn't coming fast enough, according to a report released this week.


The Southern Regional Education Board found that Georgia is making "promising progress" in three of the six areas it measured, but South Carolina is making the same level of progress in only one area. Louisiana, which often ranks poorly in education, received the highest marks in the report, titled "Schools Need Good Leaders Now: State Progress in Creating a Learning-Centered School Leadership System."

"When you're last, you want to get better, don't you?" asked Gene Bottoms, the board's senior vice president. "They realized that a school will never rise above the quality of its leadership."

If a principal leaves a school that has turned around, within three years an ineffective principal can undo the progress, he said.

That's why it is important for school systems and colleges to identify teachers with leadership abilities, Dr. Bottoms said. As it is, teachers often choose to pursue the certification needed to be a principal, and higher pay is usually the motivating factor.

"What we found going back to 2000 or so is that many people were getting a master's degree in school leadership; no one is paying much attention to why they were going into the program," he said. "Many of them were going in for higher pay."

But K-12 school systems need to work with colleges of education to select candidates for graduate programs and future principals to create a supply of quality principals, he said.

"What you find right now is people stealing great principals from each other, and there's just too few of them who know how to turn a school around," Dr. Bottoms said.

Georgia is in the midst of revamping its certification for principals, a "massive change" that should produce better school leaders, said Richard Harrison, the dean of the Augusta State University College of Education. Georgia has 16,000 educators who are certified to be school leaders, but only 6,000 of them are.

"Quite honestly, a lot of these people you don't want in leadership positions," Dr. Harrison said, agreeing that many people get the advanced degree for the money.

To create better leaders, the college began relying this year on school systems to recommend candidates for its graduate programs, he said. Without the recommendation, educators can still apply, but they risk losing the leadership certification if they don't take a leadership position within five years.

F.D. Toth, the executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the agency that certifies teachers, said all colleges, including online schools, should be changing to the new standards this year.

"There are several of these online universities that are just diploma mills," he said. Educators who obtain leadership degrees with no intention of seeking leadership positions cost the state "billions of dollars."

The higher standards will shift the overall focus to instructional leadership, rather than administration, Mr. Toth said. The change was prompted by the "poor performance" of Georgia pupils.

Alex Howard, the chairman of the Richmond County school board's human resources committee, wants to establish an in-house "leadership academy."

"To me, the leadership academy is a great way to identify teachers and invest in their future," he said.

The program could create a pipeline of leaders in training so that the school system isn't stuck without someone to fill leadership positions, Mr. Howard said.

What made a principal yesterday isn't what makes one today, Dr. Bottoms said.

"Historically, the principal was mainly an operational manager who made sure teachers had books, there were teachers in the classrooms, the facilities were kept clean, order was kept, but the principal was not really considered to be the best teacher in the building," Dr. Bottoms said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or


The Southern Regional Education Board used six measures to plot the progress of states to improve the preparation of school principals from 2002 to 2006.

RecruitingPromising progressSome progress
Redesign principal preparation programsPromising progressSome progress
Preparation with school-based experiences to lead school improvementSome progress Some progress
Base licensure on improved school and classroom practicesSome progress Little progress
Alternative pathways to licensureNo progressNo progress
Training and support in low-performing schoolsPromising progressPromising progress

Source: Southern Regional Education Board