Cover: District Partnerships with University Principal Preparation Programs

District Partnerships with University Principal Preparation Programs

A Summary of Findings for School District Leaders (Volume 3, Part 4)

Published Jun 20, 2022

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


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Research Questions

  1. How did school districts benefit from participating in UPPI?
  2. How did participating school districts contribute to the redesign of principial preparation programs?
  3. What factors facilitated and challenged school districts' partnerships with preparation programs?

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 school district leaders.

Key Findings

UPPI districts reported three key benefits from partnering with principal preparation programs

  • Districts anticipate higher-quality principals as a result of partnering on preparation program design and delivery.
  • Collaboration with programs inspired improved leadership development practices in districts.
  • Districts developed data systems to identify, grow, and track leaders.

Partnerships involved real effort on the part of districts

  • Districts participated in steering and working groups in service of program redesign.
  • Districts contributed and committed to supporting changes in program design and delivery, including recruitment and selection, curriculum and instruction, and clinical experience.
  • Districts took the lead on leader tracking system development.

Several factors facilitated and challenged UPPI districts' work and partnerships with preparation programs

  • Preexisting relationships and a focus on building a culture of trust and collaboration underlie successful partnerships.
  • Districts established structures and routines that demonstrated commitment to the partnership.
  • Team meetings and communication were important but logistically challenging.
  • Districts built lasting partnerships with other districts as well as the university program.
  • Teams explored strategies to manage leadership turnovers.


  • Find a willing university partner — one that is not just checking a box to say it got district input, but one that has a real desire to listen and respond to feedback.
  • Consider the district's own system readiness for partnering.
  • Promote communication between those engaging with the university program and others in the district who have a role in hiring, supporting, and evaluating principals.
  • Commit to examining and refining the structures and processes in the district that pertain to the leadership pipeline.

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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