Cover: Principal and Teacher Preparation to Support the Needs of Diverse Students

Principal and Teacher Preparation to Support the Needs of Diverse Students

National Findings from the American Educator Panels

Published Jul 25, 2019

by William R. Johnston, Christopher J. Young

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent are educators satisfied with various aspects of their preservice training programs, and how prepared did they feel when beginning their work?
  2. To what extent do perceptions of preparation vary based on the amount of field experience educators had as a part of their preservice training?
  3. How prepared to support a diverse student body do educators report being? How does this vary based on educators' race?
  4. For principals, to what extent is self-reported preparedness to work with nonwhite and low-income students associated with preservice training focus on this area? How does this differ for white and nonwhite respondents?

Principals and teachers have an undeniable influence on the educational outcomes of their students, so it is important to consider the extent to which they are receiving adequate preparation in their preservice training programs. However, the evidence base on the quality of these programs suggests there is substantial room for improvement, particularly in the area of preparing educators for supporting a diversifying student body. This report presents findings from surveys of nationally representative samples of school leaders and teachers who responded to questions about the preservice training they received prior to beginning their work as educators. These findings would be useful to for policymakers and administrators of principal and teacher preparation programs. While principals and teachers generally felt well-prepared for working in schools, there were a handful of areas where preparation appeared to be lacking, particularly regarding preparation to support black, Latino, and low-income students.

Key Findings

White teachers less likely to feel prepared to teach, lead in diverse schools

  • Principals and teachers generally felt that their preparation programs were effective and that they left training feeling prepared to lead a school or teach in a classroom.
  • More than 80 percent of educators agreed that the individuals providing training, the feedback they received during training, and their coursework and learning experiences were relevant and effective.
  • Principals and teachers who had greater amounts of field experience during their preservice training were more likely to agree that their preparation programs were effective than peers who had less field experience.
  • Just over 60 percent of principals and teachers agreed that their preservice programs prepared them to support black, Latino, and low-income students.
  • White principals and teachers had lower rates of agreement that their preservice training prepared them to work with black, Latino, and low-income students compared with their nonwhite peers.
  • White principals reported lower levels of preparedness to support black, Latino, and low-income students when they began working as a principal compared with their nonwhite peers. However, this gap was only observed among those who felt their preservice training did not prepare them in this area.


  • Preparation programs may benefit from a stronger focus on supporting the needs of a diverse student body, in terms of race and ethnicity, social class, and students with high-needs disabilities.
  • Preparation programs should continue to anchor field experience in high-quality mentorship experiences and connect this field experience to coursework.
  • Scholars must develop studies of preservice training programs that rely on objective measures of program quality and not just educator self-reports.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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