Wanted: School Leader. No Educational Experience Required.

Across the nation a growing trend in ed reform has taken hold. Non-educators are being considered as top candidates to lead schools.
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Across the nation a growing trend in ed reform has taken hold in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Seattle, Sacramento, New York, and most recently New Jersey. Non-educators are being considered as top candidates to lead schools. The fresh perspective and super management skills are often cited as justification for this approach. Most recently, in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg steamrolled Cathie Black into the system as the new chancellor seeming to give little credence to the concern educators and parents had regarding her lack of educational credentials. Black addresses this concern following the recommendation of Jonathan Raymond, the non-educator school leader from Sacramento who advises a listening tour will help prepare her for the challenge. In her first direct public outreach to staff it seems she followed his advice sharing that she's visited more than 20 schools and says,

"I'm seeing what makes an effective classroom, what makes a great school leader, and how a strong school culture can contribute to learning. But more than anything, these visits remind me why I'm here: to bring the opportunities made possible by an excellent education to every one of our students; to keep their dreams alive, or to ignite their dreams."

The reaction of many educators and educational administrators is this.

Spending a few weeks visiting schools certainly doesn't enable you to see what makes an effective classroom. For the most part, these schools can't help but put on a show for their special visitor. An hour or two in a school gives you very little insight into what it was that made that school effective.

Beyond that, there is resentment from educators and educational administrators that while this new crop of non-educators were just handed the key card to their new digs, they were required to jump through all sorts of hoops, pay for the privilege to take tests to get certified, pay for teaching and administration licenses, put several years into the classroom before being able to be licensed as an administrator, and devote cash and time for their masters degree and educational leadership certification...all of which they are told is necessary to be qualified.

They wonder...
Why aren't the non-educator school leaders working to get their proper degree and specialized certification while also working full time like the rest of did or still must do. Why don't they have to take the tests they had to pay to take. Why aren't they mandated to pay to apply for their education licenses? Perhaps they could be required to teach a class or at least spend some time student teaching (preferably in a testing grade) to provide more of a sense of what it is really all about. Educators wonder why on earth their boss, who is charged in part to enforce this process, is being given a pass on ALL OF THIS.

In short, in a system of accountability and standardization, why isn't it necessary for the person in charge of all the schools to be held to the same standards as those running them?

The reason non-educators aren't held to the same standards as their staff is simple.
We are tied to vague and unclear titles. Changing the titles to accurately reflect the duties of the these school leaders would likely result in less backlash and a more favorable perception. One thing practicing and former educators know is that often, a great educator is not always the same person as a great business manager. While there are exceptions, many school leaders know this is the case and now have business managers, director of operations, or a similar title for someone who runs that side of the affairs while the principal, superintendent, or chancellor serves as educational leader.

The call for non-educators comes in response to the need for strong managers and these non-educators are deemed to be uniquely qualified to effectively run a large organization. But should these leaders have titles that most view as being reserved for those with an educator background? The reality is these candidates are hired not because they are uniquely qualified to be instructional leaders, so lets stop placing titles reserved for such positions on them.

Given the background and duties of these non-educators, a title like Chief Operating Officer or Director of Business Management, certainly makes more sense. The mayor of New York recently learned this lesson when trying to push through a waiver for non-educator as school Chancellor when he was required to give Shael Polakow-Suransky the title of Chief Academic Officer serving as second in command. While the dual appointment makes sense, this begs the question, "Should the educational leader be the second in command to the person who is the business management expert?" Why not have the business expert serve as first in command when it comes to business decisions, and have the educational leader first in charge of education decisions. This would clear up a whole lot of unnecessary political mumbo jumbo and the reality is that the two positions are usually necessary to effectively run schools.

The latest to jump on the bandwagon is New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie who shared the sentiment that others are echoing around the nation.

"It's important that New Jersey public schools recruit and hire the most experienced, talented managers possible. In large, state-run districts, or in schools that have failed our children for generations, we especially need leaders who know how to manage thousands of employees in districts that spend hundreds of millions in tax dollars."

Understandably educators, parents, and others are concerned when politicians declare we need talented managers to run our schools with no regard to educational preparation or experience. The person uniquely qualified to "manage" tax dollars is not the same person that knows what is best for student learning. What politicians like Christie and the rest need to realize is what Mayor Bloomberg was forced to acknowledge. There are two types of people necessary to run schools today. Let's stop insulting the intelligence of Americans and start recognizing the importance of both roles necessary to effectively run a school system putting each in charge of their area of expertise.

Cross-posted at The Innovative Educator

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