Cover: Redesigning University Principal Preparation Programs

Redesigning University Principal Preparation Programs

A Systemic Approach for Change and Sustainability — Report in Brief (Volume 3, Part 2)

Published May 26, 2022

by Rebecca Herman, Elaine Lin Wang, Ashley Woo, Susan M. Gates, Tiffany Berglund, Jonathan Schweig, Megan Andrew, Ivy Todd

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Research Questions

  1. How did principal preparation programs change during the five years of UPPI?
  2. What did it take for programs to collaboratively redesign?
  3. How did partners address challenges to systemic change?
  4. How did partners extend the strategies developed in the UPPI?

The job of the school principal has become much more complex and demanding over the past several decades. Many university-based principal preparation programs — which prepare the majority of school principals — have struggled with how to make the fundamental changes needed to prepare principals for today's schools. To test a path forward, The Wallace Foundation provided grants to seven universities and their partners to redesign their principal preparation programs in line with research-supported practices. This report shares findings from the RAND Corporation's five-year study of The Wallace Foundation's University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI).

Under UPPI, each team developed a clear and ambitious vision for its program. Overall, the changes the teams enacted ensured that the programs were more rigorous, coherent, and authentically connected to the work of on-the-ground school leaders. Throughout the initiative, the teams balanced common objectives and structure with flexibility for their specific context and changing conditions.

This report illustrates that it is feasible for universities — in partnership with high-need districts, state agencies, and with the support of mentor programs that have engaged in successful redesign — to improve principal preparation programs to reflect the best available evidence.

Key Findings

UPPI teams improved the coherence of the programs

  • Programs engaged with districts to make recruiting more collaborative and targeted.
  • Universities improved program coherence by aligning curricula to frameworks and standards, sequencing the learning, and increasing practical learning experiences.
  • Clinical experience became more authentic, intentional, and personalized.
  • UPPI programs strengthened the use of cohorts.

The universities used partnerships and supports to conceptualize and carry out changes to the programs

  • Collaborative partners played an active role at all stages of the redesign process.
  • Program self-assessments and the development of logic models or frameworks helped the team work together and kept the redesign process on track.
  • There was no single way to sequence the redesign work.
  • The partnerships evolved to support continued implementation.
  • Continuous improvement was built into the redesign and implementation processes.
  • Teams took steps to institutionalize the redesign features and the partnership and process of continuous improvement.

Partners took the UPPI testbed strategies beyond the UPPI program

  • Universities expanded the redesigned programs to include partnerships with additional districts.
  • UPPI program redesigns extended changes along the pathway to the principalship.
  • UPPI approaches informed programs across the state preparation system.

Research conducted by

This study was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

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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