University principal preparation programs have long faced criticism for inadequately training future principals to meet the job’s demands, especially leading high-needs schools to improved teaching and learning. Seven universities, working with school districts and other partners, are seeking to change that as part of the four-year University Principal Preparation Initiative, which is funded by The Wallace Foundation.
Describing the initiative’s first year, this study finds that the universities and their partners succeeded in establishing strong working relationships that enabled them together to develop a vision for better principal training and begin planning a redesign of the course of study.
The initiative calls for a partnership among four institutions: a university principal training program; at least three school districts that hire its graduates; a principal training program considered exemplary for practices the university plans to focus on; and a state education office responsible for matters like program accreditation. With meaningful input from the partners, the universities seek to put in place a course of study that fully reflects research-based hallmarks of high-quality principal training, including an emphasis on school improvement and the provision of well-supervised field experiences.
That the universities and districts were able to forge bonds is especially noteworthy; research suggests that university-district collaboration is rare but key to effective programming because of the need for training to respond to district leadership needs.
Working with their partners, all seven universities created school leader standards, agreed-upon expectations for program graduates. The partners also examined the programs’ current offerings to determine their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they developed “logic models”—maps of the aims of the change effort and the steps to reaching them. Building the logic model proved to be one of the central ways in which the programs and districts soldered their relationship, giving the varied participants a common understanding of the initiative and how its parts fit together, according to the study.
With this as groundwork, the universities began redesigning the programs—a process expected to continue in the initiative’s remaining years. Changes in curriculum so far vary depending on the university and its partner districts. They include everything from stronger instruction in culture-building to a sharper emphasis on special education. One commonality is that all seven universities intend to boost their internships or other field experiences and ensure they are closely linked to what’s taught in courses.
The efforts encountered challenges. One was leadership turnover among the various partners. Another was time constraints facing the busy professionals whose attention was needed for the effort. There were institutional difficulties as well, such as university policies initially at odds with proposed changes in things like course hours. Some faculty members expressed concern about changes they feared might tip the academic scales too heavily toward the practical. In most cases, the efforts were able to circumvent such challenges, so that by the end of the first year, RAND wrote, it “appears that the [initiative] sites have established a firm foundation of partnerships, shared a common vision moving forward, and developed structures, tools, and processes to make progress.”
The participating universities are Albany State University (Ga.), Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University, the University of Connecticut, Virginia State University and Western Kentucky University.