WASHINGTON — As part of a sweeping report on the nation's elementary schools, Education Secretary William J. Bennett on Tuesday urged "deregulating" principals' jobs to allow people such as publishers, business executives and military retirees to hold the positions.
"I suggest that we look not only at exceptionally able educators, but also at men and women who have demonstrated leadership in other realms," Bennett said in a report entitled "First Lessons."
Bennett mentioned several jobs that could lead to possible principal appointments, including "the head of a government bureau" and "the director of an art school," saying that "all of these should be able to join the pool of prospective elementary school principals, provided they possess the requisite personal qualities."
No 'Insuperable Barrier'
The education secretary added: "Not having taught should not be an insuperable barrier."
Bennett, in the 83-page report, explained the reasoning behind his suggestion: "The elementary school of the future will demand a level of executive skill and imagination that may not be found often enough inside the corridors of education bureaucracies."
The report was begun a year ago and written by Bennett, with help from 21 others, including educators, politicians and writers. He called the study the first "major national report" on elementary education since 1953.
Bennett, anticipating criticism of his proposal to pick principals from outside traditional teacher ranks, said that any newcomers would have to undergo "intensive pre-service training" and "a carefully monitored apprenticeship" to familiarize themselves with classroom procedures.
Nonetheless, educators generally reacted negatively to the proposal.
Lyle Hamilton, spokesman for the 1.8-million-member National Education Assn., called Bennett's idea "cutesy," adding that it "does a disservice" to principals around the country who have special knowledge that cannot be acquired in other professions.
Sam Sava, director of the National Assn. of Elementary School Principals, said that a minimum of three years' teaching experience is a prerequisite to becoming a principal. "Would Gen. George Patton have made a good elementary school principal?" he asked, deriding Bennett's proposal to hire retired military officers as principals.
Throughout the document, Bennett refers to statements by experts to back up his views. At one point, he quoted the Southern Regional Education Board, a research organization, as saying: "Managerial experience might be substituted for education courses."
Still Relies on Teachers
In Atlanta, where the board is based, Lynn M. Cornett, associate director, said that the quote came from a June report called "Effective School Principals." She said that, while her organization believes "alternative ways should be considered" for selecting principals, "we still believe the mass of the principals will continue to come from the teacher ranks."
Cornett said that, "realistically, I don't think we are going to recruit large numbers of people from outside education" because of differences in salaries and benefits and because of the perception that educators have less esteem than many other professions.
However, in his report, Bennett said: "Attracting new blood into the principalship may not require much more money." He cited a survey showing that salaries for elementary principals reached up to $63,964.
"Combine these respectable levels of compensation with a high degree of autonomy and a real opportunity to turn a school around, and we should be able to lure enough talented people into the field," Bennett wrote.
The report, which was released during a speech Bennett made to the National Press Club, also repeated recommendations contained in many education reports, including a longer academic year, higher pay for top-quality teachers, fewer hours of television viewing, improved teacher training and increased focus on reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies.
Albert Shanker, president of the 630,000-member American Federation of Teachers, called the report "a mixed bag" because he said it did a good job of promoting parental responsibility but fell down when it came to solutions to problems like dropouts and truancy.
"The report is crammed with ideas that cost money, lots of money," Shanker said in a statement. "The notion that all of this can be done with voluntary contributions of time and money represents a triumph of hope over experience. I, too, keep on hoping. But I also plan to deal with reality."