Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs

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Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World: Lessons from Exemplary Leadership Development Programs

By Linda Darling-Hammond, Michelle LaPointe, Debra Meyerson, and Margaret Terry Orr

In collaboration with Margaret Barber, Carol Cohen, Kimberley Dailey, Stephen Davis, Joseph Flessa, Joseph Murphy, Ray Pecheone, and Naida Tushnet

Tremendous expectations have been placed on school leaders to cure the ills facing the nation's schools. The critical part principals play in developing successful schools has been well established by researchers over the last two decades: committed leaders who understand instruction and can develop the capacities of teachers and of schools are key to improving educational outcomes for all students. With these hopes for the potential of school leaders has come a surge of investment in and scrutiny of programs that recruit, prepare, and develop principals.

Contemporary school administrators play a daunting array of roles. They must be educational visionaries and change agents, instructional leaders, curriculum and assessment experts, budget analysts, facility managers, special program administrators, and community builders. New expectations for schools - that they successfully teach a broad range of students with different needs, while steadily improving achievement for all students - mean that schools typically must be redesigned rather than merely administered. It follows that principals also need a sophisticated understanding of organizations and organizational change. Further, as approaches to funding schools change, principals are expected to make sound resource allocations that are likely to improve achievement for students.

Knowing that this kind of leadership matters is one thing, but developing it on a wide scale is quite another. What do we know about how to prepare principals who can successfully transform schools? What is the current status of leadership development? And how might states systematically support the development of leaders whose schools are increasingly successful in teaching all students well?

This report addresses these questions using data from a nationwide study of principal development programs and the policies that influence them. In 2003, with funding from The Wallace Foundation, the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute, in collaboration with the Finance Project, began to study how exemplary preparation and professional development programs develop strong school leaders. We sought to determine whether some programs are more reliably effective in producing strong school leaders, and if so, why and how? What program components and design features do effective programs share? How much do these programs cost? How are they supported and constrained by policies and funding streams?

The Study

The study examined eight exemplary pre- and in-service principal development programs. The programs were chosen both because they provided evidence of strong outcomes in preparing school leaders and because, in combination, they represented a variety of approaches, designs, policy contexts, and partnerships between universities and school districts. Pre-service programs were sponsored by four universities: Bank Street College; Delta State University; the University of Connecticut; and the University of San Diego, working with the San Diego Unified School District. In-service programs were sponsored by the Hartford (CT) School District, Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools (which included a pre-service component), Region 1 in New York City, and San Diego Unified Schools. In several cases, pre- and in-service programs created a continuum of coherent learning opportunities for school leaders (see Table 1).

To understand how the programs operate and how they are funded, we interviewed program faculty and administrators, participants and graduates, district personnel, and other stakeholders. We reviewed program documents and observed meetings, courses, and workshops. We surveyed program participants and graduates about their preparation, practices, and attitudes, comparing their responses to those of a national random sample of principals. In addition, for each program, we observed graduates in their jobs as principals, interviewed and surveyed the teachers with whom they work, and examined data on school practices and achievement trends.1


Table 1: Description of Program Sample

Pre-service Programs In-service Programs Program Descriptions
Delta State University (MS) Delta State overhauled its program to focus on instructional leadership, featuring a full-time internship and financial support so teachers can spend a year preparing to become principals who can transform schools in a poor, mostly rural region. The program benefits from support from local districts and the state of Mississippi.
University of Connecticut's Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) The UCAPP program is transforming a high-quality, traditional university-based program into an innovative program that increasingly integrates graduate coursework and field experiences and prepares principals who can use data and evidence of classroom practice to organize change. Some candidates go into Hartford, CTwhere they receive additional, intensive professional development.
 Hartford (CT) Public School DistrictThe LEAD Initiative has used leadership development to leverage reforms vital to moving beyond a state takeover. Working with the Institute for Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, Hartford is seeking to create a common language and practices around instructional leadership.
The Principal's Institute at Bank Street College (NY)Region 1 of the NYC Public SchoolsWorking with Bank Street College, Region 1 has developed a continuum of leadership preparation, including pre-service, induction, and in-service support. This continuum aims to create leadership for improved teaching and learning closely linked to the district's instructional reforms.
Jefferson County (KY) Public SchoolsJefferson County (KY) Public SchoolsBeginning in the late 1980s, JCPS has developed a leadership development program tailored to the needs of principals working in the district. Working with the University of Louisville, JCPS has crafted a pathway from the classroom to the principalship and a wide array of supports for practicing leaders.
Educational Leadership Development Academy (ELDA) at the University of San DiegoSan Diego (CA) Unified School District (SDUSD)San Diego's continuum of leadership preparation and development reflects a closely aligned partnership between SDUSD and ELDA. The pre-service and in-service programs support the development of leaders within a context of district instructional reform by focusing on instructional leadership that is supported by a strong internship, coaching and networking.

We conducted policy case studies in the states represented by the program sample - California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, and New York; these were augmented by data from three additional states that had enacted innovative leadership policies - Delaware, Georgia, and North Carolina. This provided us a broader perspective on how state policy and financing structures influence program financing, design, and orientation. In these eight states, we reviewed policy documents and literature and interviewed stakeholders: policymakers and analysts; principals and superintendents; and representatives of professional associations, preparation programs, and professional development programs. Our national survey over-sampled principals from these states to allow state-level analyses of principals' learning experiences, preparedness, practices, and attitudes in relationship to policy contexts.

From these analyses, we describe what exemplary leadership development programs do and what they cost; what their outcomes are for principals' knowledge, skills, and practices; and how policy contexts influence them. We also describe a range of state policy approaches to leadership development, examining evidence about how these approaches shape opportunities for principal learning and school improvement.

In the Words of Graduates

Participants and graduates were quick to identify the strengths of their programs. These often centered on the tight integration of coursework and clinical learning experiences:
I thought it was just brilliant to combine the theory and practice. I like that the program has been modeled around learning theory. I like the fact that our classes are germane to what is going on daily in our school. It really helps to make the learning deeper and, obviously, more comprehensive.
- San Diego ELDA
intern principal
The internship experience is phenomenal. We really got to see schools, because we were given an opportunity to experience an internship that put you in the school and had you working with a principal doing things for the school - not just sitting around hearing about it. You're actually doing it, and that was one of the benefits of this program. . . . It's authentic. [We had] authentic experiences that helped us learn, so we had not only an opportunity to discuss it through classes, but we experienced it through doing.
- UCAPP graduate
I think the program is structured in a way that makes you think critically. You are constantly connecting what you learned in the past to the real world. I think that is important. A lot of programs are designed to just get through, and at the end you get a master's or a certificate, but this program truly prepares you to become an effective leader. They do this through seminars, through visits to other schools, [and through your internship].You get to see what really occurs in the schools, and what it really takes to become an effective leader.
- Bank Street graduate
We didn't learn by sitting in a classroom, reading out of a textbook, and listening to a lecture every day. That's not how we learned everything. Once we got into our internship, all the theories and discussions of change and leadership styles came into play. So what we learned was not a result of reading out of a textbook and sitting in a class taking notes, it's because of the interaction that we had with our professor and what we've been able to discuss since we've been out into our internship.
- Delta State University graduate

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  1. We triangulated data from all of these sources in drawing conclusions. However, most of the findings represented in this report derive from self-reported data from candidates, principals, and program faculty, along with our observations of program activities in selected schools.