In most states, becoming a principal requires completion of a training program that includes of mix of coursework and some kind of internship, usually through a college of education.
Whether those regimens produce administrators who can improve school performance is, for the most part, anyone’s guess, contends Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University.
“There’s very little empirical work that actually demonstrates that certain features of programs that are thought to be important really are important,” she said.
With a grant of nearly $1.25 million from the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, Ms. Darling-Hammond is leading a new study of the effectiveness of training programs for school principals. (The foundation also underwrites coverage of leadership in Education Week.)
In examining eight such programs, the scholar’s research team plans not only to inspect their content, but also to evaluate the on-the-job performance of people who went through them. To do that, the team will survey program graduates, the district leaders who employ them, and the teachers in the schools they lead. Student-performance data also will be analyzed.
In addition, the Washington-based Finance Project, which studies policy issues related to children and families, plans to break down the costs involved in the programs studied.
The review will include both preservice-training initiatives and professional-development offerings for current administrators. Programs throughout the country, chosen for their strong reputations in the field, have been invited to take part. The University of Connecticut’s preparation program already has agreed to take part.
The effort comes as traditional modes of administrator training are under increased scrutiny. Critics say that many approaches fail to stress the skills that principals need to raise student achievement.
Kathy O’Neill, who directs leadership initiatives at the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, said she hopes that the new study will help policymakers as they go about changing the rules that govern how administrators are groomed.
“People react to data,” she said, “and thus far we have had very little data.”