When Learning Counts: Rethinking Licenses for School Leaders

Jacob E. Adams, Jr. & Michael A. Copland [PDF]:

This report asks two fundamental questions: do the licenses that states require of school principals encompass the knowledge and skills those principals need to promote student learning? If not, what kind of policy framework would help decisionmakers, educators, and others rethink principal licenses and the school leadership they support? To find the answers, we examined licensure content for principals in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Based on that in-depth investigation, we reached the following conclusions.
Licenses don’t reflect a learning focus. No state has crafted licensing policies that reflect a coherent learning-focused school leadership agenda. On the contrary, licenses run between two extremes: a reliance on individual characteristics, such as background checks or academic degrees, that signal nothing about the purposes or practice of the principalship, and lists of knowledge and skill requirements whose scope and depth don’t clearly sum to a meaningful definition of the job. Neither approach represents a set of qualifications on which the public may rely or the profession may depend. In an era of standards and accountability, this omission stands out.
Licensing requirements are unbalanced across states and misaligned with today’s ambitions for school leaders.