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Wallace Foundation Launches New Investment in University-Based Principal Preparation

The Wallace Foundation this month announced a major new initiative to support the redesign of higher education-based programs for preparing school leaders. Investing $47 million over 5 years, the University Preparation Program Initiative will bring together selected institutions and school districts to share best practices and develop more effective principal training.

The initiative will fund improvements to principal preparation programs at up to six universities in partnership with high-need districts. It will also invest in research on effective partnerships, course work, and clinical experiences, and it will engage states in reviews of pertinent policies in support of the work. The selected universities and their district partners will be announced in the fall.

The University Preparation Program Initiative builds on 15 years of Wallace-funded programming and research on school leadership, most notably through the Principal Pipeline Initiative, on which AACTE has collaborated as a communications partner since 2012. AACTE also was one of four organizations tapped by Wallace to conduct surveys, literature reviews, and other work to inform the new initiative, summarized in the report Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, released at the AACTE Annual Meeting last month (see video from the presentation here).

AACTE’s survey asked members about their own principal preparation programs, the context in which they operate, the challenges they face, and the degree to which improvements are seen as needed. More than 250 member institutions responded to questions on topics such as the quality and effectiveness of programs, the structure of clinical practice design, the use of reflective practice to improve programs, the development of partnerships as a facilitative component of programs, the use of specific programmatic course work, and barriers to program implementation.

“Most of AACTE’s survey respondents acknowledged it would be beneficial to improve their principal preparation programs,” said Amanda Lester, AACTE facilitator consultant, who conducted the survey with Michelle Lane, another consultant. “They saw value in providing principal candidates with authentic field experiences, but many reported facing challenges with implementation.”

District superintendents surveyed by AASA–The School Superintendents Association agreed, with 80% of respondents saying principal preparation programs need to improve. In addition to AASA and AACTE, other organizations contributing to the latest report are the American Institutes for Research and the University Council for Educational Administration. Based on their collective findings, the report identifies these five themes:

  1. Districts are largely dissatisfied with the quality of principal preparation programs, and many universities believe that their programs have room for improvement.
  2. University-district partnerships are essential to high-quality preparation but are far from universal.
  3. The course of study at preparation programs does not always reflect principals’ real jobs.
  4. Some university policies and practice can hinder change.
  5. States have authority to play a role in improving principal preparation, but many are not using this power as effectively as possible.

Rodrick Lucero, AACTE vice president of member engagement and support, called the new Wallace investment “an unprecedented and amazing opportunity for advancement and improvement in preparing future principals.” Like teacher candidates, he said, prospective principals benefit from programs with clinical experiences grounded in strong school-university partnerships. “This initiative will be effective in helping institutions implement the clinical practice model for principals in training,” he said.

For more information about the new initiative, see the Wallace Foundation’s press release.

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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE