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Universities Chosen for $47 Million Overhaul of Principal Preparation

The Wallace Foundation announced Thursday seven universities that will participate in its $47 million effort to revamp principal-training programs and strengthen the role that states play in promoting high-quality programs.

The focus on principal preparation, which the foundation announced earlier this year, aims to push universities in seven states to redesign prep programs to ensure they are in line with education leadership research and preparing graduates with the skills that districts and schools need. Wallace's initiative also endeavors to get states to review accrediting and licensing procedures to sustain higher-quality training programs. (The Wallace Foundation helps support Education Week's coverage of education leadership, arts education and expanded learning time.)

The foundation believes that many current training programs are not adequately preparing principals for today's job. In a report the foundation released this year, 80 percent of superintendents said that improvement in preparation programs was needed to a "large or moderate extent." Only 0.5 percent said no improvement was needed. 

Thursday's announcement also marks Wallace's expansion into smaller districts—the universities working on redesigning their principal programs are required to partner with local districts in which their graduates work. To date, Wallace's investments to strengthen the principal pipeline have primarily been directed at urban and large countywide school systems.  Like other school leadership investments Wallace has made, the districts that will be involved in this latest effort serve large numbers of disadvantaged students. 

"We know from research that school principals require excellent training with high-quality, practical experiences to become effective leaders-but most are simply not getting this," Will Miller, the foundation's president, said in a media release. "Because many school districts don't have the capacity to train as many principals as they need or to train future principals at all, the best way to reach more aspiring school leaders is through the university programs that typically provide needed certification. We are confident that the selected universities want to raise the bar for their programs, work in partnership with their local school districts and serve as models for other universities."

The "University Principal Preparation Initiative," as the program is called, will run for four years. The RAND Corporation, which will be studying the program along the way, will release an evaluation in the fifth year.  Two other reports, including one looking at successes of the overhaul and barriers the universities faced, will follow

Foundation officials said they hope their program will lead others to rethink how effective principals are prepared, with a focus on on-the-job training; district and university partnerships; and state policies around accreditation and licensing that promote high-quality programs.

The universities, which are all in states that are already working on reviewing standards, accreditation and licensure related to principals, are:

Albany State University, Albany, Ga., which will partner with the Pelham City, Gwinnett County, Calhoun County, and Dougherty County school systems. 

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Fla., which will partner with school districts in Broward, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie counties. 

North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., which will partner with the Johnston and Wake county school systems, and the Northeast Leadership Academy Consortium (a group of 13 small, rural districts). 

San Diego State University, San Diego, Calif., which will partner with the San Diego, Chula Vista Elementary, and Sweetwater Union High School districts. 

The University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., which will work with the Hartford, Meriden, and New Haven school systems. 

Virginia State University, Petersburg, Va., a historically black college, will partner with county school systems in Henrico and Sussex counties and the Hopewell City district. 

Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Ky., will partner with the Green River Regional Education Cooperative, which provides training to 42 districts in the state. 

Each university will also work with a state-level education partner (such as the state department of education or the state's credentialing commission) and other principal preparation programs, such as New York Leadership Academy and the University of Washington.

The foundation said the timing is right for a focus on the state of principal preparation programs. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states and districts will be able to exercise considerable more authority over K-12 education than they did under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The more we talk with education leaders no matter at what level of the education system, from state to university to district, the more we hear it is the right time to conduct a university-focused initiative like this," said Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at Wallace. "We are seeking to learn how these seven universities accomplish their program redesign as an important first step in improving how principals are prepared for the demanding job of leading school improvement across the country."

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