[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

A lot of folks have been asking important questions about school leader preparation lately. The most recent issue of AASA's The School Administrator magazine profiles four key concerns.

Are school leadership programs any good?

Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, angered a number of folks with his 2005 report, Educating School Leaders, which was a scathing indictment of university educational administration programs. In this issue of The School Administrator, he and Diane Dean continue the theme that most school leader preparation practices are out of sync with the needs of schools:

The mission of the field is confused; the curriculum and degrees awarded have little relevance to practice; clinical experience is weak; the faculty is overly dependent on adjuncts and insufficiently involved with schools; admission and graduation standards are low; and research is of poor quality.

Do we have too many school leadership preparation programs?

In her article, Margaret Terry Orr chooses to focus on the growth of educational leadership doctoral programs and the resultant impact on quality and student selectivity. Orr notes that the growth has occurred mostly in smaller regional universities:

[T]hese programs lack the institutional resources, breadth and history of other universities to support a doctoral program. New programs are more likely to start up with fewer full-time dedicated faculty members and be more reliant upon adjunct faculty. They may be less able to develop more advanced-level coursework, offer more diverse specialized course options, support research and research skill development or have other educational developments in their institutions that would enrich their content. . . . [As smaller] institutions expand both doctoral program availability and number of admissions, access becomes less competitive. But does greater access diminish the value and quality of the degree?

Should we be skeptical of superintendents who don't have an education background?

Tim Quinn, managing director of the Broad Foundation's Superintendents Academy, writes about preparing effective leaders for large urban school districts. Although teachers and principals often are wary of non-educator superintendents, Quinn notes that running a large district can be similar to running a large, multinational company:

It takes strong leadership skills to successfully run an entity as large and complex as an urban school district, much less turn around one that is low-performing. Most people don't realize many urban school systems are as large as the biggest companies in America. The New York City Department of Education, with a budget of nearly $13 billion, ranks among the top of the Fortune 500 list in terms of size, alongside companies such as Sun Microsystems and Continental Airlines. Many urban districts have more employees and larger budgets than any other entity, business or government in their city. Urban school district leaders have a massive scope of responsibility. . . . [M]ost current educational leadership programs are not preparing leaders - whether traditional or nontraditional - to handle the realities and complex challenges of leading an urban school district.

Can school leaders be prepared effectively online?

In the issue's final article, Patti Ghezzi writes about online doctoral programs for school leaders. Although school systems and traditional university programs tend to be skeptical about the quality of online leadership preparation programs, participants often claim that their coursework is more rigorous than anything they've done in face-to-face graduate study:

One critic, Thomas Glass, a professor of educational leadership at University of Memphis who tracks superintendent trends, believes online programs run by online colleges cannot prepare educators for executive-level positions in a school district. "They are definitely second class or third class." . . . Leaders at the institutions now offering online doctoral degrees say their programs are as rigorous, if not more so, than programs at bricks-and-mortar universities. They contend their electronic classes emphasize practical skills and applicable research over education theory and say their instructors are practitioners who understand the public education landscape better than tenured professors who may be decades removed from working in school settings. . . . Dolly Adams, a lead teacher for gifted education in Richmond, Texas, who is working on her Ed.D. in educational leadership [says,] "You're not sitting in a lecture listening to a professor who likes the sound of his voice."

As the new coordinator of the Educational Administration program at Iowa State University, I obviously am concerned with effective leadership preparation practices. If you are too, I encourage you to read one or more of these articles. Then, since there's no discussion area at AASA, come back here and give us your two cents. There's plenty of fuel here for discussion!

P.S. In addition to these four interesting articles, you also should make it a priority to track down a copy of Joe Murphy's phenomenal article in the April issue of Phi Delta Kappan regarding the disconnect between university educational leadership programs and the needs of practicing administrators.