Public Release: 

Universities begin redesigning principal preparation programs

RAND Corporation

One year into a four-year $49 million initiative to improve training for aspiring school principals, a new RAND Corporation report found that seven universities are beginning to change their principal preparation programs to better reflect the real-world demands of the job.

The seven universities participating in The Wallace Foundation's University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) are redesigning their programs by working with local high-need school districts that hire their graduates as well as accreditation agencies in their states--a move not typical of most other programs.

"Past research shows that successful principal preparation programs should include partnerships with districts," said Rebecca Herman, a senior researcher at RAND and a lead author on the report. "Our report illustrates such engagement is feasible, valuable and critical to creating these programs."

Principals help set school vision and culture, supporting teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, improving student achievement. Some educators say many university programs that train principals favor theory over practice and provide too little field experience in which candidates learn by taking on duties of school leaders. The initiative seeks to boost such programs by generating lessons for other universities on how best to design a program that prepares effective principals.

The RAND report found that, during the first year of the initiative, programs are working to better align programs with expected skills needed upon graduation, as well as ensuring their programs meet state and national leadership standards. All have taken evidence-based self-assessments to see how programs can be improved and developed models to guide their redesign. Programs are trying to develop a more coherent curriculum that integrates theory and practice, and offer more hands-on training opportunities and greater collaboration with school districts by asking practitioner-leaders to work as part-time instructors.

As partners in the initiative, states in which the universities are located are exploring how policies could strengthen principal preparation programs statewide.

"Many universities see the need to redesign their principal preparation programs to better reflect today's realities of that important job," said Jody Spiro, The Wallace Foundation's director of education leadership. "These seven programs have accomplished a great deal in the first year. The RAND report shares many lessons from their work that others can use to build a foundation for this complex change process, beginning with forming deep partnerships with the districts that hire their graduates and the state that develops the policies affecting the redesign."

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The universities in the initiative are Albany State University (Georgia), Florida Atlantic University, North Carolina State University, San Diego State University (California), the University of Connecticut, Virginia State University and Western Kentucky University. Each has the support of a mentor program--in which they are paired with a principal preparation program--that has expertise in one or more areas that the UPPI university program seeks to develop.

The report, Launching a Redesign of University Principal Preparation Programs: Partners Collaborate for Change, is the first of three Wallace Foundation-sponsored RAND reports on the initiative. The two future reports will analyze how state policies can strengthen principal preparation programs, as well as final program redesign and changes in aspiring principals' experiences.

The research was undertaken by RAND Education, a unit of RAND that conducts research on prekindergarten, kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) and higher education issues, such as assessment and accountability, choice-based and standards-based school reform, vocational training and the value of arts education and policy in sustaining well-rounded communities.

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