EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, October 27, 2006

    EPLC K-12 School Leadership Report

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center released a new report on K-12 School Leadership which reviews the status of district and school leadership and recommends policy changes to enhance the quality of that leadership. The Center makes recommendations for state policymakers, universities, and school districts designed to strengthen preparation and professional development for superintendents and principals. Further, the report recognizes that effectively carrying out the demands placed on today's school administrators requires well-functioning leadership teams.

    The report culminates the work of the Center's year-long Pennsylvania K-12 School Leadership Project. During the Project, EPLC identified a number of key facts that form the basis for its recommendations. Namely, it does not appear that there is a shortage of individuals certified to serve as school leaders. Between 2000-01 and 2004-05, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued enough principal certificates and letters of eligibility for the superintendency to replace nearly 30 percent of all school and district leaders annually. However, there is substantial and credible anecdotal evidence that the pool of applicants for these positions is increasingly shallow and more frequently filled with individuals seeking their first principalship or superintendency.

    Increasing the quality of future and current school administrators is imperative as decades of effective schools research continues to find a strong relationship between instructional leadership of schools and high levels of student achievement. However, there is evidence that the academic programs and professional experience of would-be administrators does not adequately prepare them for the challenges they face, nor is much of the in-service professional development meeting their very real needs.

    EPLC found substantial agreement among practitioners about the knowledge and skills needed by both principals and superintendents if they are to be effective in their evolving and increasing complex roles. But, it appears that the knowledge and skill items where there are major cited weaknesses in the preparation programs are precisely the knowledge and skill areas deemed to be most important for school and district leadership. During the past couple of years, PDE has responded to perceived weaknesses in administrator preparation by developing the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership program (PIL). This standards-based professional development program focuses on leadership to improve student achievement.

    The EPLC report recommends incorporating the PIL standards into administrator preparation programs and the state's program approval standards and also recommends commissioning an external evaluation of the PIL program. The report also makes recommendations surrounding increased internships and induction programs for new principals and superintendents, increasing the diversity of school leaders, and ensuring a salary differential that makes administrative positions attractive to classroom teachers. Read the full set of recommendations in "Strengthening School Leadership: Preparing and Supporting Superintendents and Principals", available at www.eplc.org/strengtheningschoolleadership.pdf.

  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Task Force on School Cost Reduction

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction, created by Special Session Act 1 of 2006, held its first organizational meeting on Monday. Twelve of the 13-members of this advisory board within the Office of the Governor (one appointment is pending) gathered to establish a structure for their work and discuss the information they will need to complete their charge of examining all costs to school districts and identifying viable options for reducing those costs. The Task Force selected Michael Nadol, a Managing Director with Public Financial Management, to serve as Chairman. Eric Elliott, Assistant Director of Research at the Pennsylvania State Education Association, will serve as Vice Chair.

    The Task Force is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the various categories of public school costs and the historic rate of increase in those categories and determining the reasons behind the increases. The committee also is to examine the impact of state and federal mandates on school districts and determine whether any mandates should be eliminated, revised or better funded. Finally, the Task Force must identify best practices used by school districts in Pennsylvania and other states to provide services in a cost-effective manner. To inform their work, members requested that PDE compile historic expenditure data over the past 10 years. Members also requested per pupil data to evaluate whether costs are being driven by population and enrollment or if there are other factors. The data will serve as a guide to help the Task Force determine what additional research may be needed. The group also will plan public hearings to gather input on its examination. While the Task Force will have access to state government staff for assistance in its work, the General Assembly provided no formal budget for its operations.

    During the meeting, members offered a variety of topics the group could explore from pinpointing the key drivers of school district budgets to antiquated processes related to school construction to identifying items not reimbursed by the state that become local costs. The next meeting of the Task Force will take place on Wednesday, November 15.

    Task Force members were appointed by Governor Rendell (3 members), Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer (3 members), Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow (2 members), House Speaker John Perzel (3 members) and House Minority Leader William DeWeese (2 members). The advisory group is required to submit quarterly reports of its findings and a final report of cost saving recommendations within one year.

    Task Force on School Cost Reduction Members (one appointment pending)

    Joseph Burchik, President, Master Builders' Association of Western PA, Inc.
    Daniel Jalboot, AIA, Daley & Jalboot LLP
    Annette Palutis, Teacher, Scranton School District
    Gerard Musto, Former Superintendent
    Frank Meloy, Assistant Superintendent, Altoona Area School District
    Dennis Younkin, Business Administrator, State College Area School District
    Pat Halpin-Murphy, Director or Government Affairs, AFT Pennsylvania
    Roger May, Teacher in Williamsport
    Deb Jakubic, Staff, Pennsylvania State Education Association
    Michael Nadol, Managing Director, Public Financial Management
    Eric Elliott, Assistant Director of Research, Pennsylvania State Education Association
    Pam Markle, School Director, Williamsport Area School District

  • House Activity

  • The House this week moved forward legislation ( Senate Bill 592) that allows the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) to keep some investment information confidential for certain periods of time. SB 592 now heads to the Governor's desk for his signature.

  • The House Education Committee moved forward legislation ( Senate Bill 1332) that makes numerous changes to the Public School Code related to school health services. The bill requires schools to ensure that students undergo a physical exam within one year prior to entering school, one year before or during fifth grade, one year before or during ninth grade, and prior to being issued an employment certificate. SB 1332 also requires children to visit the dentist within one year prior to starting school, one year before or during third grade, and one year before or during seventh grade. If a child does not undergo a physical or dental exam, the district must schedule an exam for the child with a qualified health professional or a school dentist and notify and invite parents to attend exams scheduled by the district for their child. SB 1332 also addresses procedures for students who have or are suspected of having communicable diseases, health examination requirements for school employees, and tuberculosis and communicable disease evaluations for school volunteers. SB 1332 has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.

    Research and Reports

    K-12 School Leadership

  • Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) recently released a meta-analysis, a synthesis of data from separate studies into a single sample of research, on the effects of superintendent leadership on student achievement. McREL combined the data from 27 studies conducted from the 1970s to 2005 in what researchers believe to be the largest-ever quantitative examination of research on superintendents. The purpose of the study was to answer the question: What is the strength of the relationship between leadership at the district level and average student academic achievement in the district? The analysis also sought to determine what specific leadership responsibilities are related to student achievement and what specific leadership practices are used to fulfill these responsibilities.

    The meta-analysis produced four principle findings. The first and most important is that district-level leadership makes a difference. The research team found a statistically significant relationship between district leadership and academic achievement. Second, the study indicates that effective superintendents create goal-oriented districts. The team found five leadership responsibilities that correlate positively with student achievement: collaborative goal setting, non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction, board alignment and support of district goals, monitoring goals for achievement and instruction, and use of resources to support achievement and instructional goals. The third finding produced by the McREL analysis is that superintendent tenure has a positive impact on student achievement. The team determined that positive effects can manifest as early as two years into tenure.

    The final finding of the study is both "surprising and perplexing". In a concept the study labels "defined autonomy," McREL says superintendents should set clear, non-negotiable goals while leaving the responsibility and authority for determining strategies for meeting those goals to school leadership teams. The idea of defined autonomy stems from the contradictory findings of several studies. One set of data indicated that increasing building autonomy was associated with increased student achievement while another set of data demonstrated that increasing site-based management was associated with a decrease in achievement. Therefore, "defined autonomy" is the "expectation and support to lead within the boundaries defined by the districts goals."

    As a result of these findings, the research team was able to answer their secondary question about the leadership practices used to fulfill these responsibilities. A few of the most prominent practices include having shared vision, communication, reporting, evaluation and reevaluation. The full report, "School District Leadership that Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement", is available at www.mcrel.org/pdf/leadershiporganizationdevelopment/4005RR_Superintendent_Leadership.pdf.

  • A recent report issued by Public Agenda identifies vast differences in opinion among education administrators, teachers, parents and policymakers about today's schools. Part of the Reality Check series, "The Insiders: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today", demonstrates that despite the national zeal for improving academic standards, increasing proficiency, and closing the achievement gap, the majority of principals and superintendents do not see these as serious problems in their schools and districts. The Reality Check series is based on telephone interviews conducted with 254 school district superintendents, 252 school principals, 721 public school teachers, and 1,379 parents of current public school students.

    The report produces four important findings. First, the study concludes that administrators have a "buoyant, upbeat outlook" about public education's performance. Half of superintendents believe that local schools in their districts are "excellent." Administrators also are confident about the level of learning and are less likely than teachers to believe that students can slip through the system without learning; only 27 percent of superintendents and 43 percent of principals consider this a problem locally in contrast with 62 percent of teachers.

    The second finding of the report is that superintendents and principles are confident that teachers are well-qualified and doing a good job at handling both academics and discipline. Further, 56 percent of principals and 50 percent of superintendents say that the quality of new teachers is improving. Principals also "are increasingly optimistic that their schools can meet NCLB teacher quality requirements".

    Finding three demonstrates that administrators in minority and low-income districts differ dramatically in their views of public education. These principals and superintendents are more concerned with academic achievement and drop-out rates and are generally less satisfied with the performance of their teaching staff. These administrators also are more likely to believe that paying teachers more for working in challenging schools or providing higher salaries in subjects such as math and science where there are staffing shortages is a viable option for improving education.

    The fourth finding outlines the steps principals and superintendents view as effective measures for improving teacher quality. More than 7 in 10 administrators believe that increased power to fire bad teachers, including those with tenure, would be a highly effective means of improving their teaching staffs. Other strategies given high marks by administrators include increasing and improving professional development and mentoring for new teachers. Most administrators are critical of the current system of certification; and, few support the merit pay and alternative certification proposals popular with education reformers.

    The final finding of the report is that school leaders want better data and fewer mandates. Seven of 10 administrators say they need to get student testing data in more useful and timely ways and that less bureaucracy would enable them to execute their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively. Finally, many principals and superintendents say that their own training is out-of-date and that they do not have enough authority to do a good job. To read the full report, go to www.publicagenda.org/research/pdfs/rc0604.pdf.

  • For more information about K-12 School Leadership, including links to informational resources and additional research and reports, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_leadership.html.

    Election 2006

  • Election Day is just around the corner...Where do the gubernatorial candidates stand on education issues? Visit the campaign web sites of nominees Ed Rendell and Lynn Swann to learn more about their plans for education in Pennsylvania at www.rendellforgovernor.com and www.swannforgovernor.com.

  • Datebook

  • Next Week...The Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals holds its annual conference in Pittsburgh on October 29-31. EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday.

    National Events...The National Coalition of ESEA Title I Parents holds its annual conference in Los Angeles on November 1-5. The National Middle School Association holds its annual conference and exhibit in Nashville on November 2-4. The Alliance for Excellent Education releases a new report on English language learners on November 2 in Washington, D.C. The National Writing Project hosts a conference for teachers of English language learners on November 3-4 in Los Angeles. The Education Trust holds its national conference on November 3-5 in Washington, D.C. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • Register Now...EPLC will host the 2006 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium on Thursday and Friday, November 16-17, 2006 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Harrisburg. The Symposium will feature sessions on education finance reform across the nation, the status of Pennsylvania's costing-out study, the condition of the Public School Employees' Retirement System, and Maryland's experience with a statewide education finance reform commission, as well panels of Pennsylvania policymakers and advocates. Registration information and a preliminary agenda are available at www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.