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This program could help aspiring principals succeed

A new study evaluates whether a program aimed specifically at aspiring principals helps school leaders build success

Students in schools where new principals participated in a research-based training program outperformed students in schools with new principals who did not participate in the program, according to a new study.

The RAND Corporation study focuses on the New Leaders program, which partners with districts to offer rigorous and research-based training for aspiring principals.

Read more: Principal prep is changing for the better

New Leaders’ hallmark program, the Aspiring Principals program, focuses on three core elements: selective recruitment and admission, training and endorsement, and support for principals early in their tenure.

Students in K-8 schools led by New Leaders principals scored higher on achievement tests when compared to K-8 students in schools whose principals were not in the program, a RAND study finds. Both mathematics and ELA achievement were higher and remained statistically significant even after corrections were made.

Individual-level academic performance and student attendance were higher in New Leaders schools, as well.

A large share of aspiring principals who completed the Aspiring Principals program were subsequently hired into principal positions by partner districts–between 26 and 39 percent, according to the research.

The program may also help with new principal turnover–new principals who completed the Aspiring Principals program are more likely than other new principals in the same districts to remain at their schools as principals for a second year.

The Aspiring Principals program also seemed to help New Leaders principals develop and demonstrate competencies related to school, student, and principal-retention outcomes, such as instructional leadership and adult and team leadership.

The report also offers recommendations for strengthening K-8 principals:

  • Evaluations of principal-preparation programs should examine multiple program features and outcomes at the principal, school, and student levels.
  • Principal-preparation programs can help build internal capacity within partner districts.
  • Within- and between-district analyses could provide complementary evidence regarding program effectiveness.
  • Multiyear evaluations are needed to capture the effect of program features on school outcomes because, for the program to affect students, participants must complete the program, be hired as principals, and remain in their positions long enough to have an effect on schools and students.

The study is a follow-up to a 2014 study of New Leaders principals and focuses on the results from a subsequent evaluation of those principals.

A nationwide focus on training aspiring principals

The focus on helping new principals succeed also raises the question of whether principal prep programs are truly helping aspiring principals.

Universities are starting to change their principal prep programs to better prepare school leaders to meet real-world challenges, according to a late 2018 report. The report looks at the first year of a four-year $49 million initiative to improve training for aspiring principals in seven universities.

Principals help set school vision and culture, supporting teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, improving student achievement. Some educators say many university programs that train aspiring principals favor theory over practice, providing too little field experience in which candidates learn by taking on duties of school leaders. The initiative evaluated in the report seeks to boost such programs by generating lessons for other universities on how best to design a program that prepares effective principals.

The report found that, during the first year of the initiative, programs are working to better align programs with expected skills needed upon graduation, as well as ensuring their programs meet state and national leadership standards. All have taken evidence-based self-assessments to see how programs can be improved and developed models to guide their redesign.

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Laura Ascione

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