U.Va. Professor Leading Effort to Revise Educational Leadership, Preparation Standards

August 12, 2014

How should school leaders be prepared, and how should they and the schools they lead be measured?

These are questions a group of education experts are asking as they set out to revise the national educational leadership preparation and accreditation standards and the program review process.

Michelle Young, a professor in the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration, has been asked to lead these efforts, along with Joseph Murphy, a professor at Vanderbilt University, and James Cibulka, the president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The Council of Chief State School Officers, a national association that represents state education departments and state commissioners of education, asked the three professionals to revise the national standards.

Education leaders, such as school principals and superintendents, make their way through a series of programs and processes, beginning with their graduate education and continuing through their professional development on the job. According to Young, the revised national standards will inform these programs and processes at various levels of the leadership pipeline.

The leadership standards are used by states to license principals and superintendents, by school districts to evaluate the quality of educational leaders, and by leadership preparation programs to develop future school and school district leaders. They detail the skills and knowledge needed to influence teaching and student learning.

“Much of the national conversation on effective teaching and learning focuses on what happens in the classroom,” Young said. “Yet research consistently underscores leadership as a critical theme in school improvement, teacher effectiveness and student achievement. In fact, research demonstrates that effective leadership is second only to quality teaching in fostering student learning.”

According to Young, plenty has changed in education since 1996, when the standards were first developed. Social, economic and technological changes are redefining the meaning of school and the work of school leadership, and research has provided increased insight into how leadership matters to student learning and school improvement.

With the changing view of the education leadership profession, expectations placed on education leaders have expanded.

“In the past, educational leaders played more traditional leadership and management roles. They were expected to work well with parent populations, buffer their teaching staff from district politics and create a positive and safe school culture,” Young said. “School leaders are now expected to work collaboratively to shape a collective vision of student success, to create a school culture that promises success for each and every student, and to purposefully distribute leadership roles and responsibilities to other administrators and teachers in their schools so that teaching and student achievement will improve.”  

U.Va. professors have played a part in this shift, Young said. “Through their scholarship and development work, Curry School of Education faculty members have influenced thinking about the changing role of educational leadership. The scholarship of Curry professors Dan Duke, Sara Dexter and Pamela Tucker has been influential in shaping current understandings of effective school leadership.”

Young’s committee is tasked with envisioning and articulating the best conception of leadership for U.S. schools and school districts and ensuring they have access to quality leadership preparation.

Developing preparation standards is a particularly important part of Young’s research.

Two of her reports have been particularly influential in the standards revision work. The first, a 2012 publication, “The Professional Pipeline for Education Leadership,” prepared by Young, Tucker and doctoral student Dallas Hitt, articulated the need for a leadership pipeline in which leaders are identified and developed for positions over the course of their careers. 

The second, “Leveraging What Works in Preparing Educational Leaders” – written by Young, Tucker and two Curry School doctoral students, Amy Reynolds and Erin Anderson – focuses on how standards can best be used to leverage change.

Reynolds, Anderson and Tucker have been appointed to subcommittees in support of the national standards work.

The proposed new standards will go out for public comment this fall and winter. Once adopted, Young and her colleagues will work with states to adopt and implement the standards.

Media Contact

Audrey Breen

Curry School of Education