Choose principal candidates selectively, offer strong coursework that applies theory directly to practice, and provide high quality mentoring and professional development: These are the keys to improving the ranks of school principals, according to the New York-based Wallace Foundation.
The foundation recently released a report that boils down a decade of research and lessons learned in the field. The report notes that while most states have adopted leadership standards and there is more diversity among providers of principal training, most university-based training programs have failed to keep pace with the evolving role of principals. From the report:
Among the common flaws critics cite: curricula that fail to take into account the needs of districts and diverse student bodies; weak connections between theory and practice; faculty with little or no experience as school leaders; and internships that are poorly designed and insufficiently connected to the rest of the curriculum, and lack opportunities to experience real leadership.
...An especially provocative 2005 critique by former Columbia University Teachers College President Arthur Levine found that admissions criteria at the majority of university-based leadership programs "have nothing to do with a potential student's ability to be successful as a principal." All too commonly, Levine wrote, these programs "have turned out to be little more than graduate credit dispensers. They award the equivalent of green stamps, which can be traded in for raises and promotions to teachers who have no intention of becoming administrators."
The report outlines five steps that districts, superintendents and training programs can undertake to beef up the ranks of well-trained school leaders. Starting with a more "probing" process of evaluating potential candidates is one step in the process, as is providing strong support to new principals.
The Wallace Foundation provides grant support to Education Week to cover leadership issues. As an adjunct to this report, you may want to check out recent stories and blog posts my colleagues and I have written on five key skills for effective principals; training on the Common Core for State Standards for principals; training programs offered by charter providers for school leaders, and attempts to improve the principal evaluation process.
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