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August 15, 2005

Commission Offer Broad Agenda for Improving School Leadership

SPRINGFIELD – The Commission on School Leader Preparation in Illinois Colleges and Universities today urged a broad action plan for improving programs for training leaders of K-12 schools and school districts as an urgent reform to attack persistent problems with student performance in Illinois.

Noting that “large percentages of Illinois children are not meeting state or national standards,” the Commission recommended an ambitious agenda for elected officials, state agencies, college and university presidents, and local school boards.

The Commission was chaired by Dea Meyer, a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and Dianne Ashby, Vice President for University Advancement at Illinois State University, who presented its findings and recommendations to the Board. The Commission’s full report, School Leader Preparation: A Blueprint for Change, is available on the IBHE website at

The Commission included representatives from IBHE, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), K-12 schools, colleges and universities, business groups, and professional education associations, and was formed by IBHE a year ago to examine how school leaders are prepared in Illinois and recommend strategies for improving training programs.

The Commission’s report notes that Illinois has large performance gaps for poor and minority students, significant numbers of children who do not meet state or national achievement standards, and a sizeable and growing number of school districts designated for federal and state improvement status. “One of the surest ways to improve student learning is to improve the quality of school leadership, which in turn requires an improvement in school leadership preparation programs,” the report says.

The report criticizes “inadequate admissions standards” at educational administration programs which fail to produce high-quality leaders in K-12 schools, particularly in hard-to-staff, low-performing schools. It also states that preparation programs for school principals are hampered by an “irrelevant and outdated” curriculum, an imbalance of tenured versus adjunct faculty, and inadequate clinical experiences. Finally, the Commission says that the certification process for principals is outdated, the philosophy of school leadership is outmoded, and the evaluation of preparation programs is inadequate and disjointed.

The Commission proposes a menu of strategies for improving recruitment, preparation, and accountability of school leader programs. Its recommendations include:

  • Restructuring admission criteria and recruiting high-quality principals. It suggests that applicants for school leader programs be evaluated “holistically” on attributes known to improve student learning and recommends partnerships with K-12 feeder districts to “grow their own” leadership talent pool.
  • Improving programs through rigorous assessment data. The report states that school leader programs should assess candidates’ capacity to be effective leaders, inform the state and public about assessment systems, and establish clear guidelines to distinguish the Ph.D. from the doctorate of education.
  • Creating meaningful clinical and internship experiences. The report suggests that education administration programs connect coursework to the workplace through meaningful, year-long internships, train mentors at the university level, and design assessments to evaluate the performance of interns.
  • Establishing a rigorous certification exam.
  • Revising the certification and endorsement structure.
  • Coordinating a rigorous program review and approval process. The Commission proposes that all public and private preparation programs be reviewed by an objective third party, and that IBHE and the State Board of Education jointly develop a process to evaluate and close programs found to be low quality and ineffective.

The Commission also offers a to-do list for the Governor and General Assembly, state agencies, higher education institutions, and school boards to implement its recommendations.

“The Commission believes that Illinois has the capacity to provide schools and their communities with the best leaders,” its report concludes. “The challenge is whether Illinois has the will.”


Don Sevener



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