District administrators say university principal programs need to improve
A new five-year, $47 million initiative from the Wallace Foundation will help improve universities’ principal training, especially for the nation’s highest-need schools.
The initiative is prompted in part by new studies pointing to a concern that many programs are falling short of school district needs and expectations.
The University Preparation Program Initiative will fund the redesign of up to six university programs, all in states with policies supportive of high-quality principal training.
The program builds on 15 years of Wallace-supported research and experience about what makes for effective principals and their preparation. The new initiative will include independent research focusing on how universities can develop and implement high-quality courses of study and other supports for effective training, and how universities and high-needs school districts can form effective partnerships.
“While research has proven that school principals matter significantly to teaching and learning, their preparation has struggled to keep pace with the growing demands of the job,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “Many university programs are looking for ways to raise the bar, and the time is ripe for states to consider broad reform of these programs. We hope this initiative will provide evidence about how to strengthen these programs, as a first step toward eventually creating a new, national evidence-based norm for how principals are prepared, particularly for schools with the greatest challenges.”
The university initiative comes as a synthesis of four new Wallace-commissioned studies, Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, suggests that educators and policymakers nationwide believe university preparation programs need improvement.
Eighty percent of district superintendents surveyed for one of the studies are largely dissatisfied with the training that principal candidates receive. Many universities, surveyed for another of the studies, also see room for improvement, especially in collaborating with districts to provide higher-quality clinical experiences for aspiring leaders.
Each university will be asked to work with up to three partner school districts so that the university and district jointly develop the elements research has identified as essential to effective principal training, including solid internships and other school-based experiences for aspiring school leaders.
The effort will pair each university with a leading principal preparation program that can guide the university’s work in key areas, such as curriculum redesign. The university initiative will also provide funding for the states in which the universities are located to review their principal preparation program policies and see if changes could encourage the development of effective preparation programs statewide. The foundation will announce the selected universities, with their district partners, in the fall, following a rigorous selection process.
An overview of university preparation programs
The following five themes outlined in Improving University Principal Preparation Programs describe the current state of university-based programs:
1. Districts are largely dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs, and many universities believe that their programs have room for improvement. In rating the effectiveness of preparation for 15 common principal responsibilities, such as recruiting and selecting teachers, superintendents rated all 15 below the effective level. More than a third of university programs believe current programs prepare graduates “not well” or only “somewhat well.” Ninety-six percent said they are planning some changes over the next two years, with 56 percent planning moderate to significant changes.
2. University-district partnerships are essential to high-quality preparation, but are far from universal. Almost all universities said collaboration between universities and districts was an essential part of effective preparation programs, but more than a fifth indicated such partnerships were not part of existing programs. Nine in 10 superintendents said district-university collaboration occurred only sometimes or almost never.
3. The course of study at preparation programs does not always reflect principals’ real jobs. Almost all university respondents said coursework should include case studies, role playing and simulations approximating the real work of principals, but only 60 percent strongly agreed that their programs include such practices.
4. Some university policies and practice can hinder change. Respondents said some university structures, bureaucratic regulations, incentives and faculty mindsets can stifle efforts to improve the quality of principal preparation. Barriers range from a lack of understanding about the need for leadership training to be practice-based to the tendency to hire research-oriented faculty members who often have not been principals.
5. States have authority to play a role in improving principal preparation, but many are not using this power as effectively as possible. States have two strong policy levers to improve principal preparation: program approval and candidate licensure, but the new research says these are not fully used, and many states could do more to foster higher-quality programs.
Material from a press release was used in this report.