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Principal Certification May Boost Learning, Colleges of Education

WASHINGTON – Some of the nation’s leading educators came together Tuesday to unveil plans for a first-of-its-kind national certification process for school principals, a move that may bring changes to colleges of education as well as K-12 schools.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a meeting in Washington, D.C. “This effort is going to shine a spotlight on the best principals in the country.”

While lauding the effort, Duncan also expressed hope that the certification plan also would bring high-quality leaders to the nation’s most impoverished schools. One goal of the initiative should be “to identify great talent and bring them to underserved communities,” he said.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is developing the initiative with seed money from foundations plus $1 million in federal funds. NBPTS says the move is the first in a series of efforts to develop voluntary certification for principals and other education leaders. The principal certification program should begin within two years, the board said. NBPTS offers certification programs for teachers and guidance counselors.

When finished, the certification process will include standards and an assessment process to review candidates’ credentials. “It will promote excellence within the profession, provide clearer career paths for high-potential talent and, most importantly, promote student achievement,” said Janet Knupp, president of the Chicago Public Education Fund, a venture capital education organization that has provided $1 million for this effort.

Victoria Dixon-Mokeba, head of the Carolina School of Inquiry, a Columbia, S.C., charter school, told the Washington, D.C., audience certification could have “transformative power” to boost principal effectiveness. “School leaders will be given a new high point on their career continuum,” she said.

A booklet describing the new system identifies several core priorities, including elements of leadership, management and vision. These leaders also would “ensure equitable learning opportunities and high expectations for all.”

NBPTS said it is halfway toward its goal of raising $5 million for the initiative. A core working group and an advisory committee are providing input into development of the program.

The move toward principal certification is likely to affect colleges of education, says a leader from a historically Black university.

“It would definitely impact student learning in a positive way,” said Dr. Daniel Watkins, dean of the school of education at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., which offers master’s and Ph.D. degrees in educational leadership.

Among other changes, the certification process could help close the gap between theoretical and practical studies for those in graduate education, he noted.

But to be most effective for low-income schools, the certification process -when finalized – must include factors such as the ability of principals to address dropout prevention, close the achievement gap and improve parent involvement in middle and high schools, he said.

“Let’s make sure we get a diverse group to the table in creating this program,” he told Diverse.

Many low-income communities in Mississippi have difficulty recruiting quality principals. These leaders are “retiring at rapid rates,” he said. “But the pipeline that replenishes this local area is not keeping up with the outflow.”

He also said it is important to recognize the different challenges facing urban and rural areas. “I hope we do not come up with a one-size-fits-all system,” he said. “What may work in Staten Island, N.Y., may not work in the Mississippi Delta.”

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