State policymakers can play an important role in improving principal preparation. That’s one of the major takeaways from this brief.
Research has shown that school principals matter greatly to teaching and learning, but the university training they receive for the job has struggled to keep pace with the post’s growing demands. To test a path forward, in 2016 The Wallace Foundation launched the University Principal Preparation Initiative, providing support to seven universities in seven different states to better align their principal preparation programs with evidence-based practices.
The report summarizes key lessons for state education organizations from the RAND Corporation’s five-year study of the initiative, which found that through collaboration with school districts, state organizations and others, universities can defy expectations about institutional resistance to change and bring about meaningful principal preparation program redesign.
State policymakers are uniquely positioned to promote evidence-based policies to improve school leadership, the report’s authors say, given, among other things, their access to data about school leadership development in their states and to those with a stake in strong principal preparation. The report identifies policy levers state education agencies can pull to develop and support principals, including adopting clear state leader standards and then using those standards to promote coherent state policy in program accreditation, principal licensure and other parts of the pathway to the principalship. On the question of whether states should mandate changes, the authors suggest that states ensure that mandates are evidence-based and come with the support needed for programs to achieve the mandated change.
The report builds on findings from an earlier RAND study, Using State-Level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality, which explored the actions of state partners to improve school leadership and was published in 2020.
The seven universities were Albany (Ga.) State University, the University of Connecticut, Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University, Virginia State University and Western Kentucky University.