Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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I am pleased to introduce the sixth publication in the Innovations in Education series: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership. This series, published by my Department's Office of Innovation and Improvement, has already identified concrete, real-world examples of innovations in five important areas: public school choice, supplemental educational services, charter schools, magnet schools, and alternate routes to teacher certification.

As we approach the third anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act, early evidence shows that America's schools are meeting the challenge of moving our students toward proficiency in reading and math. The people most responsible for this progress are the leaders of our schools, who play a critical and important role in developing a vision for a high-quality education for every student and in implementing and supporting a learning environment that is developed and shared by key stakeholders. No Child Left Behind puts enormous pressure on these leaders to increase student achievement and close the achievement gap. We want to ensure that they are provided with the tools and training they need to succeed in this endeavor. This guide is dedicated to them.

As readers may know, my father was a school principal, and my mother a librarian. They taught me the importance of education-to individuals, and to communities. I have been proud to honor their examples by serving as superintendent of the seventh-largest school system in the nation, and now as secretary of education. But I never forget that the most challenging—and rewarding—leadership roles in education are on the front lines in the schools.

We know from decades of research and common sense that a strong school leader is an indispensable ingredient for school improvement. Yet, for too long, we have been satisfied with preparation programs that often lack rigorous standards and a coherent, systemic approach for recruiting, preparing, and supporting school CEOs. However, that is changing. A consensus is forming across political and ideological perspectives that our nation needs to tap new sources for school leaders, as well as support the talented educators already in the system.

We are still in the early days of this movement to create innovative, effective pathways to school leadership. In fact,while many states have made great progress in tearing down the barriers that keep talented individuals out of the teaching profession, similar barriers remain largely in place for potential school leaders. Nevertheless, even undercurrent constraints, entrepreneurial school districts, states, higher education institutions, and others have developed promising programs that draw new talent into leadership roles and provide job-embedded preparation and support to ensure the success of these leaders in today's schools.

This guide highlights six of these programs. They are a diverse set—rural and urban, focused on traditional public schools and on charter schools, and so forth. But they all have a few things in common: an unrelenting commitment to program rigor and quality; a clear vision of strong school leadership; a cohort structure that encourages candidates to support one another throughout their careers; and a culture of continuous improvement. Most of these programs are relatively young. While they have not been in place long enough to have extensive data proving their effectiveness, they do appear to have some promise for success. It is our hope that these pioneering programs will provide ideas and strategies that help to strengthen school leadership preparation and professional development efforts.

Those of us at the federal level will continue to keep an eye on these promising programs and root for their success and replication. We will also continue to encourage and promote the efforts of those who are in schools and on the front lines, doing the difficult but exhilarating work of fulfilling the promise to leave no child behind.

Rod Paige
U.S. Secretary of Education

December 2004

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006