What is the state of university-based principal preparation programs? How are these essential training grounds of future school leaders viewed – by themselves as well as by the school districts that hire their graduates? Do the programs need to improve? If so, by what means?

This publication seeks to help answer those questions by bringing together findings from four reports commissioned by The Wallace Foundation to inform its development of a potential new initiative regarding university-based principal training. In addition to confirming close-to-unanimous agreement among university educators and school superintendents about the important role principals play in advancing student achievement, it finds five themes:

  • District leaders are largely dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs, and many universities believe that their programs have room for improvement.

  • Strong university-district partnerships are essential to high-quality preparation but are far from universal.
  • The course of study at preparation programs does not always reflect principals’ real jobs.

  • Some university policies and practices can hinder change.

  • States have authority to play a role in improving principal preparation, but many are not using this power as effectively as possible.

The publication offers insight into the obstacles that stand in the way of improvement and suggests the need for action in: redesigning principal preparation by building on what we know from research and high-quality programs; establishing stronger connections between universities and districts; and ensuring that state policymakers create structures that encourage the proliferation of high-quality programs.

The good news, according to the report, is that many university programs seem to be open to change—and they benefit from having a number of strong programs to look to as models.

 Points of Interest

  • Four out of five (80 percent) school superintendents surveyed said improvement of university programs that train principals is necessary – 32 percent to a “large extent” and 48 percent to a “moderate extent.”
    80 percent of superintendents surveyed said university principal preparation programs need to improve.
  • There’s near unanimous agreement among university educators and school superintendents on the importance of principals. In surveys, close to 100 percent of both groups said principals are important to improving student achievement.
    Nearly 100 pct of superintendents & university educators polled said principals are important to boosting achievement

 Supplementary Materials

  • Superintendents agree principal preparation improvement is needed.
  • Nicholas Pelzer, a program officer in The Wallace Foundation's education leadership unit, describes findings from a Wallace report about the landscape for university-based principal training programs.