Proposed Changes to Superintendent Prerequisites

The Record reports today that the NJ DOE has drawn up changes to credential requirements for superintendents of “struggling school districts.” Taking a page, perhaps, from Mike Bloomberg, some districts would have the ability to hire superintendents who lack specific educational certification or degrees from teaching colleges.

Richard Bozza, head of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, says that the proposed change in employment requirements give some applicants a “free pass” and “our view is clear: you need to have an educational background to lead a district.”

(Of course,, such changes offer a solution to the problem of traditionally-credentialed superintendents fleeing the state for greener pastures because of the newly-imposed salary caps, but that’s another matter.)

So that’s the question: do you need an educational background to lead a district, or at least an educational background to lead a chronically failing district? (According to The Record, the changes would affect 50 districts out of our 591.) Are superintendents of struggling districts rendered more qualified through advanced education degrees and years of teaching experience? Or do the best candidates possess a set of leadership and management skills transferable from a non-education sector of the economy?

The same sort of query surrounds much of the debate about what makes a qualified teacher. Is it years of experience in the classroom? (Not according to recent data, or the relative success of programs like Teach for America.) Is it advanced degrees? (Nope, not that either.) Here’s U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in an editorial today on the need to rewrite No Child Left Behind:
Finally, almost no one believes the teacher quality provisions of NCLB are helping elevate the teaching profession, or ensuring that the most challenged students get their fair share of the best teachers. More and more, teachers, parents, and union and business leaders want a real definition of teacher effectiveness based on multiple measures, including student growth, principal observation and peer review.
Part of the education reform movement is rethinking traditional models for delivering instruction, including who does the delivering and who manages the deliverers. It's worth a shot for the Christie Administration to target fifty failing districts and let them bypass the traditional model of superintendency. Leadership is leadership. Who says the best candidates happened to start their careers in teaching colleges?

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