Universities Begin Redesigning Their Programs to Make Training of Future School Principals More Effective

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.

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