The principals and superintendents who run the nation’s schools are unprepared for their jobs by education colleges, where training ranges from inadequate to appalling, according to research by a leader in higher education.
Because they are responsible for hiring teachers, building community trust and overseeing academics, administrators have a huge influence over students, said Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College at Columbia University and the author of the report released Monday.
Yet most graduate education programs that train these school administrators are deeply flawed, suffering from irrelevant curriculum, low standards, weak faculty and little clinical instruction, he said. Many programs are doing little more than dishing out higher degrees to teachers who are trying to qualify for salary increases, Levine said.
Time to ‘scare the hell out of them’
“The best chance we have is to scare the hell out of them and tell them the truth,” Levine said about the colleges Monday. Even at elite universities, education colleges must improve significantly or their enrollment will slide with their credibility, he said.
The review is notable not just for what it says but also for who said it. As the head of one of the nation’s most prominent education colleges, Levine is taking aim at his own field, and his views are likely to elicit more attention than many other reports have.
Groups of principals, superintendents and education colleges agreed with some findings, mainly that many graduate programs are disconnected to real-life school challenges.
“Many classes are taught by scholars who have never — or have not recently — been in a classroom or a superintendent’s office,” said a statement by the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which represent 76,000 school leaders.
But the groups said the report goes too far in lumping together all leadership programs, given that some universities have sought and gained accreditation under tough, voluntary standards.
David Imig, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said schools have taken steps to raise their standards in recent years. Bigger steps, he said, would require more public and private spending on training. As one example, he said emerging principals should have a chance to do a full-time internship and learn from mentors.
Changes in incentives urged
“If you really want to change education leadership, you’re going to have to change the incentives for people to pursue work in leadership,” he said. “Until we get to that mark, you’re going to have part-time people in part-time programs, coming out partially prepared.”
The report is the first of a series known as the Education Schools Project, paid for by the Annenberg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Wallace Foundation.
The four-year study is based on surveys of deans, faculty, alumni and school principals, along with 28 case studies of schools and departments of education. Levine led the project with help from Alvin Sanoff, a journalist and former editor at U.S. News & World Report.
Levine found curriculum that amounted to a grab bag of survey classes, faculty with little experience in what they taught, and students with few opportunities for clinical instruction.
His own school, Teachers College, was not included. He said he omitted it largely to avoid the appearance of any bias.
The country has more than 1,200 schools, colleges and departments of education, covering a spectrum of nonprofit and for-profit programs, undergraduate and graduate.
If growing outside competition and self-policing don’t prompt education schools to improve, Levine said, states must intervene to improve or shut down weak programs.
His other recommendations include having states and districts give salary increases based on the new skills employees can show — not just new credentials they’ve earned.