SALT LAKE CITY — Most school administrators start out as classroom teachers, working their way up through the ranks while doing their own homework to earn a master of education degree. That tradition could be changing.
House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, would require that administrator licensing not be limited to those with teaching experience and education degrees.
“Nationwide, we're seeing a lot of innovation in educational leadership that is found in other degree programs,” said Coleman, noting that schools such as Rice University in Texas have a master in business administration program with an emphasis in education. “There's no lack of education experience among people in the Rice University degree program, but they come out with an MBA ... under our current licensing, we would not be able to hire one of those graduates.”
Coleman makes the argument that Utah is headed for a teacher shortage, which will also mean a shrinking pool of administrators.
“Years ago, in addressing a teacher shortage, the Legislature created an alternative route to licensure … so we could reach into other professions, and try to benefit from their knowledge and experience by helping them become teachers,” she said.
House Bill 197 would do something similar for school administrators, but goes a bit further.
“This bill creates a direct path to having a licensure, instead of having an alternative path to licensure for some people,” she said.
The bill requires the state Board of Education to make rules for an administrative/supervisory license that allow for applicants from a variety of professional backgrounds, but says the board may not require applicants to hold a particular degree or a teaching license, to complete an education leadership graduate program, or to obtain a professional recommendation from a school with an approved preparation program.
Charter and private schools are already exempt from requiring administrative licensure, Coleman said, adding that those schools have shown there are some good educational and instructional leaders who don't come from a traditional background.
“We know that great education leaders do not have to have had experience as a teacher, any more than Mitt Romney needed to be a skier to know how to support Olympians or a city manager/mayor needs to be a police officer to supervise the police department. And we should not concede to the argument 'but education is different,' ” she wrote in a blog, at http://www.kimcoleman4utah42.com/blog.
Coleman also says that the role of educational leaders — superintendents, principals and building managers — is changing, and so are the needed skill sets. Some schools may want an instructional leader, but others may be in need of someone with more management or budgeting skills, or a change leader who will take an innovative approach.
The representative points to Brad Smith, state superintendent of public instruction, as a poster child for changing administrative licensing. Smith, who is a lawyer by trade, recently served as Ogden School District's superintendent.
“With the amazing things he was able to do, he is a fairly good example of looking for innovations in leadership,” said Coleman. “Leadership can be found in lots of different disciplines, and we don't feel you have to have been a teacher in the classroom to be able to lead teachers.”
In her blog, Coleman said Smith championed great teaching and put the focus on learning instead of distractions that creep into schools.
“He became the best ally for the great teacher. And though initially he was not readily accepted and some teachers did not like him at first, the teacher association came to be his greatest supporter because he elevated them as professionals,” she wrote.
Superintendents were exempted from education licensure requirements about four years ago, Coleman said, but under the current regulations Smith could not become a school principal.
Coleman may feel that Ogden's experience points the way to the future, but she may not be able to count on support for her bill from Ogden teachers.
“I think it oversimplifies things to say the teachers' association was Brad's biggest supporter,” said Matt Ogle, director of Ogden-Weber UniServ Education Association. “We had a professional working relationship with Superintendent Smith — we agreed on some issues, and certainly disagreed on other issues.”
Ogle said the teachers' association and Smith approached issues with professionalism.
“But that doesn't mean we gave him full support,” said Ogle. “In fact, many times we were completely against the proposals he had.”
Ogle has concerns about HB 197.
“It sounds like it's going to open the door to allowing almost anybody to get a school district administrative license,” he said. “I think that's a problematic road to start down.”
The licensure system is in place to assure that people have the background to be experts in everything from curriculum and behavior to budgeting, Ogle said.
“If you have an administrator at the building level who has never been a teacher, never spent time knowing what it's like to be in the trenches as a teacher, how can they possibly mentor or evaluate a teacher?” Ogle asked. “It would be like me ... deciding I'm going to supervise doctors and evaluate their operation techniques, and their prescribing behavior and their diagnostics — it doesn't equate.”
There is a fundamental difference between the role of superintendent and building principal, or even a mid-level administrator in a district, Ogle said.
“I think Ogden took a big risk with Brad Smith,” he said. “But Superintendent Smith did not go in and evaluate teachers, and never would say that was something he was particularly qualified to do — he left that to people with education backgrounds. … In terms of planning curriculum and deciding on the best instructional strategies, he was good at delegating that to other people who had those skills, and was very open about that, so her comparison to Superintendent Smith — it's not an apples to apples comparison between what a superintendent does and what a building administrator does.”
Sydnee Dickson, deputy superintendent at the state Office of Education, said she doesn't believe the bill is as open as it's being interpreted.
“I think it's her attempt to try and open the door for people who have particular skills,” Dickson said. “The concern, of course, would be with the important role of principal as instructional leader. … Unless they have that particular background, it would be very hard to be an instructional leader in a building, or to coach teachers on best practice.”
Even if the bill passes, local schools would still have to get a letter of authorization for an administrator from a non-traditional background.
“They have to be licensed by the board,” Dickson said. “The state board of education has not lost that authority.”
Dickson said the bill is a work in progress, and the state Office of Education and the board will work with Coleman to create an appropriate path to licensure.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, agreed to sponsor Coleman's bill in the Senate. He's not sure of the future of the bill, but said it's something that ought to be discussed.
Sometimes a person can be a great fit for a job, but they don't qualify just because they don't have a specific degree or certificate, he said.
“Life experiences sometimes need to be considered as part of the qualification process, and should be weighed at whatever reasonable amount, along with degrees,” Adams said.
Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.