Districts Developing Leaders Lessons on Consumer Actions and Program Approaches from Eight Urban Districts

Margaret Orr, Cheryl King, Michelle Lapointe
2010 unpublished
Executive Summary • Districts Developing Leaders The Study This study explores the investments of eight urban school districts in school leadership preparation, with a specific focus on the different approaches that they took, the role that local universities played, and the perceptions of district officials about program effectiveness based on graduates' performance as new school leaders. The Wallace Foundation contracted with Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), for this evaluation
more » ... is evaluation research; the study was led by Cheryl King (EDC), Margaret Terry Orr (Bank Street College), and Michelle LaPointe (EDC) and was completed by a team of researchers with expertise in leadership preparation, organizational studies, and program evaluation. Research Questions Four research questions about the relationship between district investments in leadership preparation and the overall impact of those investments on school districts and universities and their programs guided our initial evaluation efforts: • How are districts using their influence as "consumers" of university preparation programs to create needed changes in candidate selection, program content, and internship experiences? • In what ways do Wallace-funded leadership preparation programs reflect the core quality features of effective leadership preparation described in the research literature? • What organizational relationships exist within and between districts and universities for district-university affiliated programs and how do they affect the quality of preparation programs being developed and implemented, the quality of leaders, and the relationship to other district investments in leadership and its development? • How do differences in district context (based on student achievement needs, district reform approach, and district leadership) relate to districts' consumer action approaches, leadership preparation strategies, and relationships with local universities? Lessons on Consumer Actions and Program Approaches from Eight Urban Districts • 1 Executive Summary Developing school leaders who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to effectively lead low-performing schools has become a critical goal for local school districts intent on dramatically improving student outcomes. 1 Given the current criticism surrounding leadership preparation programs and the changing nature of school leadership itself, school districts are becoming more actively involved in influencing the quality of their school leaders and the preparation programs that develop them. Recent research on exemplary school leader preparation programs suggests that school districts, as the direct "consumers" of program graduates, are strategically positioned to exercise meaningful influence over the content and design of program practices. 2 It also suggests that programs preparing candidates are more effective when they work from an understanding of the challenges the districts face, a collaboration with the districts on redesigning programs, and a shared initial accountability for new leader support and performance. 3 Based on this recent activity and research, The Wallace Foundation has provided funding and other system resources that enable school districts to take steps to improve the effectiveness of school leader preparation through collaboration and innovation. The eight urban districts profiled in this report are among those that received long-term, sustained funding from The Wallace Foundation to design, or influence the redesign of, leadership preparation programs that match their leadership needs. They represent different contexts (from varying city size and population to number of local universities and demographic and economic mixes) and have different state policy environments (particularly in their prescription for quality leadership preparation). The choices that these districts made about the specific ways to improve leadership preparation locally depended on a variety of factors. The results of their efforts, presented in our findings and seven conclusions, offer valuable insights on effective leadership preparation practices for aspiring principals and the organizational and systemic constraints to this work. As much as anyone in public education, it is the principal who is in a position to ensure that good teaching and learning spreads beyond single classrooms, and that ineffective practices aren't simply allowed to fester. Clearly, the quality of training principals receive before they assume their positions ... has a lot to do with whether school leaders can meet the increasingly tough expectations of these jobs.