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principal preparation

Initiative puts $47M into principal preparation for colleges and districts


Plan will prompt universities to redesign programs in collaboration with their states and local districts

Seven universities along with state and K-12 district partners will participate in a new $47 million initiative to develop models for improving university principal preparation programs. The program also will examine state policy to see if it could be strengthened to encourage higher-quality training statewide.

The Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative builds on 15 years of Wallace-supported research and experience about what makes for effective principals and their “pre-service” training at universities. The initiative seeks to explore how university programs can improve this training so it reflects the evidence on how best to prepare effective principals; these insights will be shared to benefit the broader field.

Each university will receive guidance on redesigning its programming from a principal preparation program, both university based and nonprofit, known for high-quality training. In addition, every university will form a partnership with at least three school districts that hire its graduates.

The idea is both to ensure that the training is revamped with local school needs in mind and to develop research-based training elements, such as providing candidates with rigorous internships in schools, that require close cooperation with school districts.

Participating universities, along with their district partners and states, will receive in the first year a total of $15.5 million—an average of $2.2 million per university and its partners.

Next page: The 7 universities and their district partners

“We know from research that school principals require excellent training with high-quality, practical experiences to become effective leaders—but most are simply not getting this,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “Because many school districts don’t have the capacity to train as many principals as they need or to train future principals at all, the best way to reach more aspiring school leaders is through the university programs that typically provide needed certification. We are confident that the selected universities want to raise the bar for their programs, work in partnership with their local school districts and serve as models for other universities.”

The seven states in which the universities are located will receive funding to review their policies pertaining to university-based principal training and determine if changes—such as program accreditation and principal licensure or certification requirements—would encourage the development of more effective preparation programs statewide. Agencies receiving funding include state education departments, professional standards boards, a teacher credentialing commission and a governor’s office.

The foundation hopes the initiative can contribute over the long term to the development of an improved approach to preparing effective principals, one focusing on evidence-based policies and practices in three areas:

  • Developing and implementing high-quality courses of study with practical, on-the-job experiences.
  • Putting in place strong university-district partnerships.
  • Developing state policies about program accreditation, principal licensure or certification, and other matters (funded internships, for example) to promote more effective training statewide.

The initiative aims to address a longstanding concern that many university programs haven’t kept pace with the growing demands of the principalship, especially as it moves from a focus on building management to creating support for effective instruction. According to a recent Wallace-commissioned study, Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, 80 percent of district superintendents are dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs, and many universities also believe their programs have room for improvement.

“The more we talk with education leaders no matter at what level of the education system, from state to university to district, the more we hear it is the right time to conduct a university-focused initiative like this,” said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace. “We are seeking to learn how these seven universities accomplish their program redesign as an important first step in improving how principals are prepared for the demanding job of leading school improvement across the country.”

RAND Corporation will conduct an independent evaluation of the initiative over four years, with a final report in year five.

The universities and their partner districts are a diverse array:

  • North Carolina State University is a public land-grant university in Raleigh offering both a master’s degree and doctoral program in education leadership. Last year, 135 students were enrolled in the programs, which employ six full-time, six clinical and seven adjunct faculty members. The university plans to work with Johnston County Public Schools, Wake County Schools and The Northeast Leadership Academy Consortium, made up of 13 small, rural districts (Bertie, Edgecombe, Franklin, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash-Rocky Mount, Northampton, Roanoke Rapids, Vance, Warren, Washington and Weldon City). Partners are the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Governor’s Office and the University of Denver.
  • Albany State University is a public college in southwest Georgia serving a diverse student body. It currently offers master’s and specialist degrees in education leadership. Led by four full-time faculty members, the program last year enrolled 34 candidates. The university will work with Pelham City School System, Calhoun County School System and Dougherty County School System, most of whose leaders graduated from the university’s program. Partners are the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the Gwinnett County Public Schools’s Quality-Plus Leader Academy and the NYC Leadership Academy.
  • Florida Atlantic University is a public research university with six campuses along Florida’s southeast coast. It offers certification, master’s, and specialist programs that lead to a certificate that qualifies graduates to work as an assistant principal. Last year, 150 students enrolled in these programs, which are served by 20 full-time and 15 adjunct faculty members. The university will work with Broward County Public Schools, the School District of Palm Beach County and St. Lucie Public Schools. Partners are the Florida Department of Education and the University of Denver.
  • San Diego State University is a public university offering a master’s in education leadership and a credential for the principalship. The program places students in regional cohorts, with 20 to 30 students per grouping. The university has a partnership with the San Diego Unified School District in which all candidates are nominated by their principal. The program enrolls about 55 students served by seven full-time and two adjunct faculty members. In addition to the San Diego Unified School District, the university plans to work with Chula Vista Elementary School District and Sweetwater Union High School District. Partners are the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the University of Washington and Bank Street College of Education.
  • The University of Connecticut is a public land-grant university, offering master’s and doctoral degrees in educational leadership. The Administrator Preparation Program enrolls about 100 students, with eight full-time and 12 adjunct faculty members. The university plans to work with Hartford Public Schools, Meriden Public Schools and New Haven Public Schools. Partners are the Connecticut State Department of Education, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the NYC Leadership Academy.
  • Virginia State University is a historically black land-grant public university located south of Richmond. It offers two programs in education administration and supervision at the master’s and doctoral levels. Fifteen students are currently enrolled in the principal preparation program, which employs three full-time and two adjunct faculty members. The university plans to work with Henrico County Public Schools, Hopewell City Public Schools and Sussex County Public Schools. Partners are the Virginia Department of Education and the Gwinnett County Public Schools’s Quality Plus Leader Academy.
  • Western Kentucky University, a public university in Bowling Green, offers a master’s and a doctorate in education leadership. It enrolls 75 students served by four full-time, one half-time and six adjunct faculty members. The university plans to work with the Green River Regional Education Cooperative, a consortium that provides resources and training to 42 school districts in Kentucky. Partners are the Education Professional Standards Board and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The timing may be ripe for state policy action to improve principal preparation, because the nation’s major law regarding public school education was recently revised to shift more authority to states. (The federal Every Student Succeeds Act is the successor to the No Child Left Behind law.) The seven universities come from states that already have taken steps to improve policies affecting principal preparation—and the evidence resulting from the initiative may inform future reforms.

Several national organizations will help the universities accomplish their program redesign efforts. The organizations include: AASA: The School Superintendents Association, American Institutes for Research, the Education Development Center and the University Council for Educational Administration.

The universities, their partner training programs and districts will participate in a “professional learning community” to share their work and trade insights. The states will participate in their own professional learning community.

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