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New School Leaders' Standards Released for Public Comment

A heavy emphasis on instructional leadership, along with a focus on the social aspects of learning—such as a recognition of factors outside of the classroom that impact students' education—are among the major changes included in the revised school leaders' standards released on Monday.

The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—or ISLLC—describe what school leaders (principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and other district heads) should know and demonstrate in order to prepare students for college and the workforce.

Spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, the ISLLC "refresh" is meant to ensure that "the current roles of leaders as well as the current research are reflected in the standards," said Michelle D. Young, the executive director of the University Council for Educational Administration and a professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Virginia, who serves on the National Leadership Preparation Standards Committee.

The benchmarks are used  nationally to guide state and district policies, forming the basis of principal preparation programs, professional development, and evaluations, among others.

The standards, first released in 1996, were last updated in 2008. In the intervening years, the job of the school leaders, primarily that of principals, has become increasingly more complex, largely due to changes in state and federal policies, through the waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top competitive grant program, and initiatives aimed at increasing principal and teacher effectiveness, assessment, and graduation standards.

"The primary goal of these standards is to articulate what effective leadership looks like in a transformed public education system," according to the draft released for public comment on Monday. "The standards envision public schools that empower every learner to take ownership of his or her learning, that emphasize the learning of content and application of knowledge and skill to real-world problems, that value the differences each learner brings to the learning experience, and that leverage rapidly changing learning environments to maximize learning."

The revised set of standards has increased to 11 from six. They include all of the broad categories contained in the 2008 version—vision, mission and goals; teaching and learning; managing organizational systems and safety; collaborating with families and stakeholders; ethics and integrity; and the educational system.

But the new version responds to the increasing volume of research and emphasis that have been placed on the social aspects of education, with the addition of categories like community of care for students, communities of engagement for families, and equity and cultural responsiveness.  There is also a renewed focus on ethical leadership.

The revised standards are "very, very explicit about the complexity of the job and all the things that school leaders are dealing with, today in 2014, and moving forward," said Jacquelyn Wilson, the director of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership at the University of Delaware, and a co-chair of the committee that oversaw the "refresh" of the ISLLC standards.

Adoption of the standards is voluntary. Some states adopt them as written; others tinker with them to fit their states' vision. In the last go-around, 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted or adapted the ISLLC standards. The others—Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas—adopted their own set of leaders' standards.

That, according to Jody Spiro, the director of educational leadership at the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, which donated $1 million toward the revision efforts and the development of the first ever standards for principal supervisors, is still an improvement.  Before the initial release of the ISLLC standards in 1996, there were no uniform standards.

In the previous version, instructional leadership was addressed mainly in Section 2. Now, it  is incorporated into three categories: instructional capacity, instruction, and curriculum and assessment.

Each  category then delineates the functions that a principal or school leader should engage in. For example, under instructional capacity, school leaders are expected to recruit and hire effective teachers, develop the capacity of the staff, both individually and collectively, and provide human, financial, and technological resources to help the staff develop.

"What we have tried to do in this version of the ISLLC standards is to really begin to unpack what the expectations [are] for practice in a way that principals can have a much better sense of what they should be [doing] with their time," Young said.

Three other categories address the care of teachers and students.  Under "communities of engagement for families," school leaders are expected to promote an understanding and appreciation of the school's cultural, social, and intellectual diversity and build positive relationships with families and students' guardians.  Under "equity and cultural responsiveness," school leaders are expected to address issues of "student marginalization; deficit-based schooling;" limit "assumptions about gender, race, class, and special status," and promote cultural understanding.

"We have been talking a lot more about personalizing learning in order to help all students learn and to address the achievement gaps that we have in different groups of students," said Janice Poda, the strategic initiative director at the CCSSO, "and so the beginning of that is to think about understanding what those needs are, understanding the different cultures that students come from, and the next step would be to provide the kind of instruction they need in order to learn at higher rates. It's our attempt to make people more aware of those needs, to understand those needs, and to then be able to address them."

For the first time, the public will be able to comment on the standards before they are adopted. The public comment period begins today and continues through Oct. 10.

Spiro, from the Wallace Foundation, said that the foundation was pleased with the comprehensive nature of the process, which involved every stakeholder—from researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and, now, the public.

"It's such a nice mix of making sure that the standards are grounded in the research, that [they] are also grounded in the realities of the lives of the practitioners and those who use these standards, and then the third part of  it is, of course, what's happening now—opening this up for public dialogue and discussion and vetting and then taking the reactions that come from this vetting period to improve the standards and make them even better."

The standards are expected to be released early next year.  Here is a copy of the refreshed standards: Draft 2014 ISLLC Standards 09102014.pdf. The survey can be found here.

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