Districts Developing Leaders: Lessons on Consumer Actions and Program Approaches from Eight Urban Districts

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Districts Developing Leaders: Lessons on Consumer Actions and Program Approaches from Eight Urban Districts

Developing school leaders who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to effectively lead low-performing schools has become a critical goal for local school districts intent on dramatically improving student outcomes.1 Given the current criticism surrounding leadership preparation programs and the changing nature of school leadership itself, school districts are becoming more actively involved in influencing the quality of their school leaders and the preparation programs that develop them.

Recent research on exemplary school leader preparation programs suggests that school districts, as the direct “consumers” of program graduates, are strategically positioned to exercise meaningful influence over the content and design of program practices.2 It also suggests that programs preparing candidates are more effective when they work from an understanding of the challenges the districts face, a collaboration with the districts on redesigning programs, and a shared initial accountability for new leader support and performance.3

Based on this recent activity and research, The Wallace Foundation has provided funding and other system resources that enable school districts to take steps to improve the effectiveness of school leader preparation through collaboration and innovation.

The eight urban districts profiled in this report are among those that received long-term, sustained funding from The Wallace Foundation to design, or influence the redesign of, leadership preparation programs that match their leadership needs. They represent different contexts (from varying city size and population to number of local universities and demographic and economic mixes) and have different state policy environments (particularly in their prescription for quality leadership preparation). The choices that these districts made about the specific ways to improve leadership preparation locally depended on a variety of factors. The results of their efforts, presented in our findings and seven conclusions, offer valuable insights on effective leadership preparation practices for aspiring principals and the organizational and systemic constraints to this work.

As much as anyone in public education, it is the principal who is in a position to ensure that good teaching and learning spreads beyond single classrooms, and that ineffective practices aren't simply allowed to fester. Clearly, the quality of training principals receive before they assume their positions ... has a lot to do with whether school leaders can meet the increasingly tough expectations of these jobs.

—Christine DeVita, President, The Wallace Foundation

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1. Kelley, C., & Peterson, K. D. (2002). The work of principals and their preparation. In M. S. Tucker & J. M. Codding (Eds.), The principal challenge (pp. 247–312). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; Murphy, J. (2002). Re-culturing the profession of educational leadership: New blueprints. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38(2), 178–191; Murphy, J. (2006). Preparing school leaders. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education; Young, M. D., Petersen, G. J., & Short, P. M. (2002). The complexity of substantive reform: A call for interdependence among key stakeholders. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38(2), 137.

2. Darling-Hammond, L., Meyerson, D., LaPointe, M. M., & Orr, M. T. (2009). Preparing principals for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

3. Ibid.