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Principal Preparation Is Target of $47 Million Wallace Foundation Initiative

The Wallace Foundation on Wednesday announced a $47 million initiative aimed at improving university-based principal-preparation programs and helping states to develop and finetune policies to strengthen those programs.

The New York City-based foundation has invited 24 universities—20 public, four private, and five historically black colleges—in 10 states to be part of the program. (The Wallace Foundation helps support coverage of education leadership, arts education, and expanded learning time in Education Week.)

Up to six universities will be chosen to redesign their principal preparation programs, and the final announcement on the initiative's participants will be made in the fall.

The initiative comes nearly a month after report from the foundation that examined university-based principal-preparation programs and how those programs could be improved.

According to the report, Improving University Principal Preparation Programs: Five Themes From the Field, 80 percent of school superintendents surveyed were dissatisfied with the training that their principals had received. Universities also acknowledged that they could improve.

The report highlighted a few key weaknesses, including that university-based preparation does not always match what principals do in their jobs and a dearth of partnerships between school districts and higher-education training programs. 

"While research has proven that school principals matter significantly to teaching and learning, their preparation has struggled to keep pace with the growing demands of the job," said Will Miller, the foundation's president.  

"Many university programs are looking for ways to raise the bar, and the time is ripe for states to consider broad reform of these programs. We hope this initiative will provide evidence about how to strengthen these programs, as a first step toward eventually creating a new, national evidence-based norm for how principals are prepared, particularly for schools with the greatest challenges."

The universities targeted for the Wallace initiative are in states that have taken steps in recent years to change their policies around university-based principal preparation programs. The foundation is betting that those states are committed to continuing to work on strengthening those policies as part of the initiative.

Under the University Preparation Program Initiative, the higher education institutions will be tasked with overhauling their training programs—including addressing coursework and clinical experiences—over four years.

The universities will partner with up to three school districts to tailor course and training offerings to the needs of the districts. They are also expected to offer internships and school-based experiences for principals-in-training.

Districts will be asked to develop systems to track the performance of those graduates in the workforce.

The universities will also partner with principal-preparation organizations to help with program design.

On the state level, Wallace will assist policymakers in reviewing current policies around university-based principal-preparation programs to see whether they promote or impede progress.

Two research papers on the initiative's impacts—including whether the universities were able to make changes to their programs and the challenges they encountered in doing so—are likely to come out of the researchers' work. 

The research will focus on how universities can implement and sustain effective principal preparation training programs and ways that universities and high-needs districts can create effective partnerships, the organization said.

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