A law in Pennsylvania is dropping the requirement that a candidate must have a graduate degree in education before being allowed to become a district superintendent. Instead, a candidate will be eligible for the job if they have a graduate degree in business, finance, management or law, and have at least four years of related experience. Supporters of the new rules say that the updated requirements make it easier to find candidates that are experienced with handling problems more common to school districts at the time when schools must make do with difficult budgets.
Previously, those who aspired to the job of superintendent needed to have a Letter of Eligibility issued by the state's Department of Education. The letter was granted if the person had completed a graduate-level program in educational administrative study of a minimum two-year duration. In addition, the DOE required that before being issued the letter, the candidate prove that they had at least 6 years of education experience — including at least three years in a supervisory role.
But now, someone with a degree in business, finance, management or law, along with four years of related experience, can also be a superintendent. Upon appointment, the person would need to complete a leadership development program.
The legislation was part of the law that limited superintendent payouts and specified what is to be included in superintendent contracts.
The new policy has its critics. Jim Buckheit, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, believes that those without an education degree or any experience in the academic environment won't be equipped to deal with problems commonly encountered by school district outside the financial sphere. Taking steps to improve student achievement, and meeting standards set by the state are of even higher importance; how will someone who doesn't have any educational experience approach these kinds of tasks?
Instead of changing the rules entirely, PASA argued that the state should bring back the mandate waiver program, which expired in 2010, that allowed the PA Department of Education to allow districts to forgo the Letter of Eligibility under certain circumstances.
Some larger districts, which have multiple administrators such as an assistant superintendent and curriculum directors, could manage with someone at the top not having the educational background, Mr. Buckheit said.
"The reality is, in the state of Pennsylvania, a large number of districts are very small. In terms of administrative staff, it could be a superintendent and a business manager and no one else," he said. "You'd hope the school boards in those communities would make the right decision." Superintendents across the state are not pleased with the new rules, Mr. Buckheit said. About half of the school chiefs statewide have doctorates in educational administration, he said.