Principal Prep

Report: Teaching Future Principals Should Cover More Real-World Demands

Report: Teaching Future Principals Should Cover More Real-World Demands 

A RAND Education research project examined an ongoing principal preparation improvement program and found that participating universities have changed their instruction and curriculum to put a greater emphasis on the real-world demands of the job over theory and emphasize more field experience.

The University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) was launched by the Wallace Foundation in July 2016. This four-year, $48.5 million undertaking supports seven public universities, the school districts that hire their graduates, state partners (including stage accreditors or departments of education) and mentor programs to revamp principal preparation programs based on evidence-based principles and practices. All are located in states with policies supportive of high-quality principal training.

RAND Corp. researchers were put in charge of analyzing the implementation as part of developing a set of lessons that other programs could also "adopt or adapt" as they seek to improve their efforts.

According to the researchers, the district partnership angle is an important aspect of success. "Our report illustrates such engagement is feasible, valuable and critical to creating these programs," said Rebecca Herman, a senior researcher at RAND and a lead author on the report, in a statement. "That report, "Launching a Redesign of University Principal Preparation Programs," provided an assessment of the first year of UPPI, from fall 2016 to fall 2017.

During that first year, the researchers found that participating universities were working harder to align their programs more closely with the skills expected to be needed after graduation while still meeting state and national standards. All are using "evidence-based self-assessments" to understand how their programs could be improved and have developed models to guide their redesigns. The programs are putting more energy into developing hands-on training opportunities and greater collaboration with school districts by asking their current leaders to come into the programs and work as part-time instructors.

One finding from the first year was that redesign of curriculum and instruction sought to create "more coherent programs" by building on core ideas across courses, developing cross-course assessments and assignments and tightening the alignment between courses and clinical experiences.

Also, the programs considered changes to clinical experiences (such as pushing full-time, extended internships) and candidate recruitment and selection (such as by using performance-based assessments during selection).

As partners in the initiative, states in which the universities are located also explored how their policies could further strengthen principal preparation programs.

"Many universities see the need to redesign their principal preparation programs to better reflect today's realities of that important job," noted Jody Spiro, the Foundation's director of education leadership. She added that the programs that are being studied "have accomplished a great deal in the first year." The lessons they've learned so far, she noted, can be used by others "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."

This report is just the first of three that will cover the initiative. The next two will examine how state policies effect principal preparation programs and look at final program redesign and changes made to aspiring principals' experiences.

The 137-page report is openly available on the RAND website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.