Cover: Collaborating on University Principal Preparation Program Redesign

Collaborating on University Principal Preparation Program Redesign

A Summary of Findings for University Principal Preparation Program Providers (Volume 3, Part 3)

Published Jun 20, 2022

by Rebecca Herman, Elaine Lin Wang, Susan M. Gates


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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?

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 targeted report shares findings from the RAND Corporation's five-year study of The Wallace Foundation's University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI), with an emphasis on findings for other principal preparation programs.

Key Findings

UPPI teams were able to redesign key components of their programs

  • Intentional collaboration with districts led to more targeted recruitment.
  • Curriculum and instructional changes improved program coherence.
  • Clinical experience became more authentic, intentional, and personalized.
  • UPPI programs strengthened the use of cohorts.

Universities, school districts, state organizations, and mentor programs collaborated on the redesign process

  • 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 implementation.
  • Redesign and implementation processes incorporated continuous improvement.
  • Teams took steps to institutionalize the redesign features, as well as the partnership and process of continuous improvement.

UPPI teams faced challenges and developed mitigating strategies

  • Some faculty were reluctant to share ownership of their courses or shift courses from a theoretical to a more practical orientation.
  • The shift toward use of district-based adjunct faculty entailed orientation and supports for these instructors.
  • The most mentioned challenge, across teams, roles, and stages of development, was time to carry out the redesign work.
  • Turnover at all levels &mash; university, district, and state — threatened partnerships and support for redesigned program.
  • Expanding partnerships can be challenging, highlighting the need to develop relationships between faculty and district staff.
  • As universities expanded to new districts, programs grappled with tensions between adaptation to meet local needs and adherence to core elements.


  • Select district partners with an eye toward long-term commitment, and structure communication and work routines to build and maintain strong working relationships, especially in the early phases of the redesign.
  • With partners and a research-based tool, evaluate the program's strengths and gaps.
  • Develop a common vision and plan early in the process, working through differences in perspectives.
  • Commit to fundamental changes in the curriculum, instruction, staffing, and clinical experiences, if that is needed to achieve the common vision.
  • Prepare for known challenges, such as turnover and conflicting priorities.
  • Recognize that the flow of the redesign process may not be linear. Prepare to develop, test, and refine components of the program. Some components may need to be tackled together, others singly.
  • Build systems into the work to collect data that allows the identification of areas for improvement and areas of growth.

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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