National certification program for principals could become a reality

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A national certification program for principals is a step closer to becoming reality with an Arne-Duncan-attended, big-National-Press-Club, December 8th roll-out event by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Though there are plans to pilot a program in Chicago next year, NPBTS isn't all that certain yet about other details. While it has settled on the specific criteria which it thinks define an effective principal, the necessary assessment tools for identifying those criteria are still in the works. When all the pieces do get put in place, however, this program could have broad implications for principal certification...namely that individual state licensing requirements could be replaced by nationally recognized certification standards.

Will this new principal version of NBPTS reignite a fresh round of ideological clashes between NPBTS and its conservative foes? Hard to say, but it will have to break new ground if it's to be successful. Indeed, a recent report issued by Learning Point Associates indicates that a large percentage of currently-used measures (whether used for principal hiring purposes, performance assessment or tenure decisions) lack appropriate rigor and are unreliable.

In theory anyway, building a national certification program for principals should be a whole lot easier than the rocky trail forged by its teacher predecessor, as there's no shortage of reliable data on school performance by which to measure principals. After all, it's classroom performance that hangs us all up. Why not confer national certification on great principals who 1) willingly take on tough assignments; 2) inspire loyalty from their staffs as measured by good attendance and retention (ignoring early turnover); and 3) consistently achieve positive student outcomes on attendance, graduation rates and above all test scores? We fear that in the interest of branding, the NPBTS version is more likely to evolve into something that is a lot more costly and complicated.