A Lack of Principals
by Linda Orozco & Ron Oliver

Printed in Los Angeles Times
July 1, 2001


There's a crisis in our schools. Fewer and fewer administrators are stepping forward
to lead public schools. More than 98% of California superintendents reported
shortages of qualified administrators in a survey conducted last year. The problem is
so severe that it has become the focus of the California State Assembly and Senate
(K-12 Master Plan Committee), the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
(CCTC), school boards and local communities. This year, the CCTC conducted public
forums in six cities around California to gather information on the reasons for the
shortage and investigate possible solutions. A statewide task force also has been
activated to address the shortage of quality leaders interested in assuming
administrative positions in schools.

Institutions, like California State University, Fullerton, prepare teachers to become
school administrators in a rigorous two-year Master's degree program. (Becoming a
fully credentialed administrator in California now takes 4-5 years beyond the
bachelor's degree, usually in evening and summer classes.) Our institution, alone,
prepares more than 100 new administrators annually. Demand to employ these
graduates is strong with more than 25 school districts attending a job fair this month
at Cal State Fullerton this March. Overall, the state of California has an annual
'production' of 2000-3500 newly licensed and prepared prospective administrators.
This is an abundant and continuous supply from which to hire administrators for
current and future vacancies. There are, and will be, sufficient quantities of licensed
administrators. The problem isn't the number of leaders available. The problem is the
job.

Currently only 38 percent of qualified school administrators actually assume
leadership positions in California schools. The overwhelming majority (62%) chose
to remain in the classroom or change professions entirely. This is a staggering loss of
leadership potential. No other profession can claim such a high loss of interest after
professional preparation.

The job has changed. The job of the school principal has changed significantly during
the past 20 years. The job has been negatively affected by school changes including
increased school size (more students per facility), shortage of qualified and
experienced teachers, increased instructional standards and accountability, rapid
changes in curriculum, decreased support staff (counselors, school nurses,
instructional aides and librarians), and other significant school reforms and trends.

The job is increasingly more difficult to do well. School principals and potential
candidates report finding the job increasingly difficult, if not impossible to do well.
Current principals say the job is simply not 'doable'. School superintendents report
the greatest impediments to recruiting qualified school administrators include intense
job stress and excessive work hours. Other factors that influence job disillusionment
include the changing demands of the job; and inadequate time to satisfy parents,
teachers, students and community; social problems in the school that make it difficult
to focus on instructional practices; increased accountability with no matching
authority to make the required improvements; and inadequate salaries that don't
match the time invested. (Most candidates are well aware that top paid teachers can
earn more per day than administrators, and avoid intense job responsibilities for
similar compensation.) It's no wonder the number of candidates for some
administrative vacancies has dropped to catastrophic levels.

So, job openings for principals will get harder to fill, unless a solution is found. And
ideas for solutions include ill-advised recommendations, such as lowering standards
for principal preparation, increasing training requirements for administrators, or
allowing school districts to 'grow-their-own' (training teachers to be principals
without comprehensive preparation programs, like the ones already in place). There
are even suggestions to treat principal preparation like a 'business' and license more
agencies to flood the marketplace with candidates. None of these solutions addresses
the very heart of the problem- the principal's job. An overwhelming number (90
percent) of current aspiring candidates report they would take the job, if it were
made 'doable'.

The problem is, and will remain, the job itself, unless courageous action is taken to
reinvent the principalship. Until we can assure candidates that their efforts and talents
will be respected and effectively utilized, we won't have adequate numbers of
high-quality candidates available for our schools. Instead we will have jobs going
unfilled or filled by individuals ill-prepared to lead California's schools into the new
millennium. And those ill prepared administrators will continue to be placed where
they have historically been placed in the past, in poor, minority neighborhoods that
need and deserve the best leaders we can provide. We must assure that all schools
are an appropriate size for leading and learning, include effective resources in and
out of the classroom (human and material), and the leader's job accountability will be
matched by appropriate job authority. This will not only be good for attracting the
talented and successful leaders we need, but allow them to lead schools for the
enhancement of student learning. And isn't that what education is all about?


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