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

The study points to two primary implications for policymakers.

First, the design, quality, and impact of principal preparation and development programs can be significantly shaped by purposeful state and district policies. The positive impact of a comprehensive and supportive state and district policy infrastructure is most dramatically illustrated by Mississippi. Following recommendations of a state Task Force on Administrator Preparation made more than a decade ago, the state set out to overhaul its entire system for recruiting, preparing, and developing school leaders. Reforms in Mississippi were wide-ranging and in some cases dramatic. These included redesigning programs to align with NCATE's ambitious accreditation standards and closing programs that did not meet the standards; upgrading administrator licensing requirements for pre-service, induction, and ongoing learning; coordinating all in-service professional development for school administrators through a state-level leadership institute; and creating an innovative year-long, fully funded sabbatical program to train teachers for the principalship in programs that offer a full-year internship.

Mississippi principals outranked their colleagues in our national and state samples of principals on almost every attitudinal and behavioral measure of leadership effectiveness. Driven by top-down as well bottom-up initiatives, Mississippi's policy infrastructure involved deep coordination and collaboration by districts and universities, and it required a sustained commitment of political will and financial resources. It employed all three of the major policy strategies we identified: 1) purposeful use of standards to leverage change, 2) support for the active recruitment and development of aspiring principals, and 3) development of a state infrastructure for on-going learning.

Second, state and district financing policies are critical. At the most fundamental level, what programs are able to accomplish, who they are able to recruit, and the choices that enter into program designs, depend profoundly on the sources, amounts, and stipulations of funding. If education policymakers at the state and district levels are committed to building leadership development into reform efforts, they must build in sufficient resources to support high-impact programs. Successful policies associated with raising standards are accompanied by resources that enable institutions to deliver programs to meet the new requirements. There is no getting around the fact that high-quality leadership preparation and development requires a comprehensive plan and significant financing commitment.

In particular, subsidies that allow candidates to engage in the critical hands-on work of a high-quality administrative internship seem central to the most powerful program designs. Funding for mentoring or networking for new principals also appears to enable new entrants to get stronger traction in implementing the more complex and sophisticated aspects of an instructional leadership agenda. A state's capacity to organize and offer highquality, ongoing professional development, through an academy or institute that can serve a range of needs, appears to help sustain learning opportunities for leaders in districts large and small.



Although the challenges are substantial, the lessons of this research are hopeful. First, it is possible to create systematic learning opportunities for school leaders that help them develop the complex skills needed to lead and transform contemporary schools. Second, programs that succeed in developing such leaders have a number of elements in common, including the nature of their curricula, the teaching and learning strategies they employ, the ways they organize communities of practice, and the kinds of clinical experiences they construct. Third, our review of distinctive models operating in diverse contexts illustrates that there are numerous ways to build such programs and to develop the partnerships and funding supports that enable them to survive and succeed. Finally, state and local leaders have begun to develop policy strategies that hold promise for eventually making such programs commonplace rather than exceptional. The collaborative effort needed is made worthwhile by the importance of developing a generation of strong, skilled leaders who can create schools that provide expert teaching for all students in settings where they can succeed.


Linda Darling-Hammond

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, where she co-directs the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network. Darling-Hammond was the founding Executive Director of the National Commission for Teaching and America's Future, the blue-ribbon panel that authored the 1996 report What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of teaching quality, school reform, and educational equity. Among her publications is Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs (Jossey-Bass: 2006), Teaching as the Learning Profession (Jossey-Bass, 1999) (co-edited with Gary Sykes), and The Right to Learn (Jossey-Bass, 1997).

Michelle LaPointe

Michelle LaPointe is currently a Senior Research Associate with the Northeast and Islands Regional Education Lab at the Education Development Center. Previously, she was Research Director of the Stanford School Leadership Study. Dr. LaPointe has spent a decade analyzing educational policies and evaluating programs to support youth. Before going to Stanford, she was an analyst at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), where she coordinated national evaluations of school choice initiatives, comprehensive school reform, and bilingual education. While at ED, she co-authored the 2004 Report to Congress on the Implementation and Impact of the Comprehensive School Reform Program, and contributed to the 2001 Title I report High Standards for All Students.

Debra Meyerson

Debra Meyerson is associate professor at Stanford University's School of Education and (by courtesy) Graduate School of Business and co-director of Stanford's Center for Research in Philanthropy and Civil Society. Meyerson's research focuses on conditions and change strategies that foster constructive and equitable gender and race relations in organizations. She is author of Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work (Harvard Business School Press, 2001) and more than 60 articles in scholarly and mainstream publications.

Margaret Terry Orr

Terry Orr is on the faculty of the Bank Street College of Education where she directs the Future School Leaders Academy. For the past six years, Dr. Orr has co-chaired the national UCEA/TEA-SIG Taskforce on Evaluating Leadership Preparation Programs. She has authored several research papers and articles on effective leadership preparation and its evaluation, and is coauthoring a book on collaborative inquiry as principal professional development (Teachers College Press, forthcoming).

Stanford Educational Leadership Institute

The School Leadership Study is being conducted through the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute (SELI) - a joint partnership of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and School of Education. SELI's mission is to improve student achievement by providing education leaders with the means to create effective change in their districts and schools, integrating cutting-edge knowledge from the education and business fields. Financial support for SELI is made possible by a grant from the Goldman Sachs Foundation. For more information, visit: or

The Finance Project

The Finance Project is an independent nonprofit research, consulting, technical assistance, and training firm for public- and private-sector leaders nationwide. It specializes in helping leaders plan and implement financing and sustainability strategies for initiatives that benefit children, families, and communities. Through a broad array of tools, products, and services, The Finance Project helps leaders make smart investment decisions, develop sound financing strategies, and build solid partnerships. To learn more, visit

The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation seeks to support and share effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people.
Its three current objectives are:

  • Strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement
  • Enhance out-of-school learning opportunities
  • Expand participation in arts and culture

For more information and research on these and other related topics, please visit The Wallace Foundation Knowledge Center at

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