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PROGRAM QUALITY IN LEADERSHIP PREPARATION PROGRAMS: AN ASSESSMENT TOOL.

The leadership of school principals is widely considered to have a strong influence on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. University-based leadership preparation programs have the responsibility for preparing candidates to serve as school principals and in other leadership capacities. This qualitative study of educational leadership preparation programs examined the content, delivery methods, and other factors that impact program quality based on the practices of five universities nationally recognized for providing exemplary, purposeful programs of study in leader preparation.

The research questions addressed in this study included:

* Which K-12 leader preparation programs are consistently recognized nationally for best practice?

* What is distinctive in the delivery, content, and practice of the nation's best programs?

* What steps can educational leadership programs take to ensure an outstanding experience for students and strong preparation as school leaders?

The qualitative design included interviews, audio recording and transcription, data analysis, description of findings in narratives, and relied on observation and communication to gather data. The narratives yielded common themes and resulting data points. The exemplar programs in instructional leadership were selected as participants based on comprehensive studies of current literature regarding the most effective content and delivery methods implemented in principal preparation programs.

The interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. Common themes and practices were gleaned from the content of interviews related to content, delivery, and practices that distinguish these programs. The research concluded with the development of a self-assessment instrument designed for program evaluation.

The list of resulting common themes appears similar to any list of best practice in leader preparation. The discerning finding was in the extent to which these practices were valued and ingrained of the program. The following practices were found for Leadership Preparation Programs at the M.Ed. level in this study:

* A rigorous recruitment and selection process

* Use of formal interviews as a part of the selection process

* Internships, up to one year

* Effective principals serving as mentors and/or coaches

* Coursework integrated with field experience, connecting research, theory, and practice

* Cohort models, allowing for powerful conversations and bringing diverse experiences

* District partnerships

These characteristics provide direction for preparation programs to assess their current practice against these findings. Assessment instruments were developed and recommended for field-testing. The assessment instruments allow a program to discern whether they simply include these components or whether they are taking them to a level of excellence.

Leadership Preparation Programs

Educational scholars and policy makers recognize and acknowledge the need for well-trained administrators in schools if continuous improvement is to be consistently addressed in America's schools. In order to best prepare aspiring administrators, leadership programs recognize the need to continuously evaluate and assess their principal preparation program. This study focused on content, delivery methods, and other factors that impact program quality from nationally recognized leader preparation programs for providing exemplary, purposeful programs of study in leader preparation. For years, education scholars have voiced the opinion that leadership programs were in dire need of redirection. Most notable among them, Authur Levine (2005) and Jerome Murphy (2006), expressed the idea that restructuring was desperately needed in administrative leadership programs in order to authentically prepare aspiring administrators. Further, Reed and Kensler (2010) warned that unless principal preparation programs consented to total redesign, program improvement would remain elusive.

Leadership certification requirements, according to Fusarelli (2008) experienced increases in policy changes followed by a decrease in certification requirements. Fusarelli (2008) states "over the last decade, many administrator preparation departments have changed their names from Educational Administration to Education Leadership" (p. 14). Fusarelli (2008) indicates "many states are tightening the regulations on university-based preparation programs through the adoption of state standards for school leaders and requirements for programs to be 'approved' by outside accrediting agencies" (p. 16). The Council for Chief State School Officers [CCSSO] (2008) found that "research has taught us that school leaders are crucial to improving instruction and raising student achievement" (p. 3). The CCSSO's (2008) research revealed the important role school leaders hold in improving instruction and raising student achievement, indicating "education leaders must not only manage school finances, keep buses running on time, and make hiring decisions, but they must also be instructional leaders, data analysts, community relations officers, and change agents" (p. 3). According to LaPointe, Meyerson, and Darling-Hammond (2006), "Although there is some research that examines strategies used to help principals with their increasingly diverse roles, little is known about how to combine curriculum and methods to craft a program that develops or sustains successful school leaders" (p. 3).

The role of leadership preparation programs, according to Braun, Gable, and Kite (2011) is to prepare effective leaders to guide school communities through the challenges they will encounter each day. In the last 30 years, principals have served as instructional leaders and transformational leaders, empowering teachers, positively impacting teaching and learning through shared-decision making and school reform (Braun et al., 2011). However, preparation programs that educate 88% of future school leaders are not current in their practices (Braun et al., 2011; Levine, 2005). The majority (89%) of participants of conventional, university-based programs claim that the programs failed to prepare them for the rigors of real practice (Braun et al., 2011; Levine, 2005).

While leadership programs made significant progress in the 2000's, the call for change continues. Following the period of massive program redesign, leadership preparation continues to evolve. As recently as late 2014, attempts continue to emphasize leader preparation as evidenced by the expanded set of recommended Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium [ISSSLC] standards (ISLLC, 2014).

A clear understanding of what makes a program exemplary and sets it apart from other educational leadership programs can inform program assessment and implementation of best practice. LaPointe et al. (2006) found "evidence indicates that effective principal preparation programs are research-based, have curricular coherence, provide experience in authentic contexts, use cohort groupings and mentors, and are structured to enable collaborative activity between the program and area schools" (p. 4). A number of districts have pursued collaborative relationships with outside organizations and local universities to help ensure the alignment of principal preparation programs with district needs and expectations. A number of principal preparation programs offer internship or residency programs (CCSSO, 2008). LaPointe and Davis (2006) determined that the focus on instructional leadership distinguished exemplary programs from traditional educational administration programs. LaPointe and Davis (2006) continues, "these exemplary programs seek to develop the ability to coach and support teachers, to share a vision for reform, and to lead a team to implement that vision for improved teaching and learning" (p. 4).

The research of Cheney and Davis (2011) concluded that within recent years increasing numbers of colleges have taken the necessary steps to redesign principal preparation programs to reflect state standards for school leaders and to address the perception that new principals are not prepared to lead schools. Cheney and Davis (2011) stated, "refocused principal preparation programs must demonstrate that they develop and rigorously assess in aspiring principals the capacities that are most likely to improve student learning in pre-K through 12th grade schools" (p. 22).

With so much at stake for schools to produce career-ready global students, it has become crucial for leadership programs to identify and prepare future school administrators. A review of the literature revealed that exemplary principal preparation programs offered the following key design elements:

* Selective admission requirements--High quality graduate students are essential components to a successful principal preparation program. Cheney and Davis (2011) explain, "candidates with the skills and dispositions aligned to the competency framework must be identified and targeted, which in turn, provides programs strong candidate pools" (p. 10).

* Coursework and method of delivery--The course content must be current and aligned to state and national leadership standards. Cheney and Davis (2011) referenced "practical and applied" delivery methods indicating that principal preparation must include simulated applications and numerous real-time situations.

* Recruits pre-selected by local school districts-With open enrollment based upon student interest and desire, educational leadership programs have not historically made a concerted effort to specifically target quality candidates. Cheney and Davis (2011) cited information from the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] (2010) that indicated although close to 200,000 teachers have earned a master's degree in administration, and the teachers are not using their graduate degrees as school principals. Research further showed that aspiring principals that were chosen for participation in programs by their school districts were better suited for school leadership.

* A cohort that progresses through the coursework as an interactive team-research by Griffin, Taylor, Varner, and White (2012) discovered the effectiveness of teamwork through implementation of the cohort model, indicating "the cohort model is superior in its ability to provide a supportive learning community for candidates where common and diverse learning experiences provide substance for rich discussions" (p. 62). Educators who matriculated as a cohort team benefited from their discussions, shared knowledge, and varied on the job experiences (Griffin et al., 2012).

These qualities outlined in the literature are common practices in most strong leadership programs. As such, they provide little direction for program providers whose programs are based on these practices already. A closer examination of exemplary programs may provide insight for program improvement.

Method

This study examined factors that impact program quality in Leadership Preparation Programs. The study explored five exemplary principal preparation programs in the United States. Specifically, the study: (a) examined the literature on school leadership preparation programs, (b) included interviews from experts in exemplary leadership programs across the country, (c) reviewed the structure of content and delivery methods, and (d) noted components related to strong educational leadership programs. The study then offered recommendations related to program self-assessment to help guide the need for change.

Research was conducted to provide insight into best practice and recommendations for strong, positive, relevant experiences for students. The research questions addressed in this study included:

* Which K-12 leader preparation programs are consistently recognized nationally for best practice?

* What is distinctive in the delivery, content, and practice of the nation's best programs?

* What steps can educational leadership programs take to ensure an outstanding experience for students and strong preparation as school leaders?

A qualitative research design was used to investigate master's level leadership preparation programs for content, delivery methods, and other factors that impact the program quality of five exemplar universities selected for the study. The qualitative design included interviews, described findings in narratives, and relied on observation and communication to gather data. The narratives yielded common themes and resulting data points.

The five exemplar programs in instructional leadership were selected based on comprehensive studies of current literature regarding the most effective content and delivery methods implemented in principal preparation programs. Review of the literature identified several master's degree programs in educational leadership and principal preparation as exemplar programs. The literature showed that each of the five programs conducted a rigorous and selective admissions process. Upon enrollment, challenging content was offered to aspiring school leaders. Clinical opportunities were extended in authentic school settings where the work of collaborative cohorts yield powerful discussions and forge professional partnerships between the college and selected school districts.

Each of the five exemplar master's degree programs was contacted by telephone for interviews. The interview questions addressed the characteristics that make their program different from other principal preparation programs at the master's level. The participants were asked how their preparation program had changed in the last five years. Participants shared how their program equips their graduates for the role of school leader in an era of accountability. The final question addressed the evaluation used to assess the program.

The specific interview questions included:

* Your principal preparation program at the M.Ed. level has been recognized as one of the top in the nation throughout the literature. To what do you attribute your success?

* What makes your program different from other principal preparation programs at the M.Ed. level?

* How do you impact the content and delivery by the faculty in your program? How are students exposed to research? How do you assess for student understanding?

* Explain how your leadership preparation program equips your graduates for the role of school leadership. How are students prepared for personal management and evaluation? How do you prepare principals for results and accountability?

* What components of your M.Ed. Leadership Program do you consider to be most beneficial to your students' preparation? How did you arrive at these components?

* How does your program contribute to district partnerships?

* How has your leadership preparation program changed in recent years?

* How do you evaluate your M.Ed. Leadership Preparation?

The number of interviews and time frame for the interview varied based on the amount of time the participant required to answer the questions. The interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. Common themes and practices were gleaned from the content of interviews related to content, delivery, and practices that distinguish these programs. Researchers noted and charted indicators valued by participants, and selected program components were compared. Participant responses were reviewed as related to the literature regarding exemplary programs. The research concluded with the development of a self-assessment instrument designed for program evaluation.

Results

The exemplary programs shared a number of common qualities and practices as described in the interviews. Based on each program's attributes, the researchers color-coded the frequency of responses of relevant words and phrases from the telephone interview transcriptions. The frequency of responses is indicated in Table l.

Each of the five exemplary leadership programs credit several of the same attributes for the success of their individual programs; namely, district partnerships, collaborative cohorts, principal coaching, meaningful internships, customized coursework, and readily available resources. Review of the literature shows these attributes are commonplace in highly successful principal leadership programs. In order to gain an understanding of the degree of involvement of each attribute at each university, a 3-point value system or rubric was used as an instrument of measure to assess the degree of presence or involvement for each school. Characteristics reported as essential to the success of the program were rated as follows: 3-strong presence, 2-moderate presence, 1-weak presence, and 0 not present. With that understanding, the programs were rated and graphed by the researchers following interview of each program's representative as indicated in Table 2.

Much of the program quality emerged as the participants spoke with passion related to the content and delivery aspects of their programs. The common themes that emerged in the content and delivery methods from the five exemplar programs are shown in Table 3.

The data were clear that exemplary educational leadership programs share similar goals: development of progressive school leaders that impact authentic learning; coursework that is rigorous, relevant and customized, and instructional delivery prescribed to accommodate student needs. Also found to be common components amongst the exemplary programs in this study: selective admissions procedures, collaborative cohorts, principal coaching, year-long paid internships, district partnerships, programs lasting from nine months to three years, reflective practice, and capstone projects to assess student understanding for authentic application. Similarities and differences of the programs' unique characteristics were determined by comparing the findings.

* Directors from all five programs noted their rigorous recruitment and selection process, narrowing the field of applicants being selected to those who were highly motivated, talented, and well experienced to participate in the programs.

* Directors from all five programs discussed the importance of the mentor and/or coaching component, provided by experts in their field of study.

* Directors from all five programs emphasized the need for required coursework to be relevant, and for research projects to be problem-based, authentically addressing what leaders need to know and be able to do to impact change.

* Directors from all five programs elaborated on the characteristics of their program's internship component. One program was a nine-month program, three programs lasted for one year, and one program lasted for three-and-one-half years.

* Directors from all five programs discussed their intensive coursework, where cohorts work together on tasks and assignments, providing opportunities for networking and collaboration.

* Directors from all five programs discussed the importance of continuous improvement through reflection and collaboration, focused on improving the coursework, projects, and assessments, and personalizing the program to meet the needs of participants.

* Directors from all five programs shared the importance of gaining feedback from former students to help determine the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

* Directors from all five programs collaborate with local district leaders to gain feedback on their program's strengths and weakness in preparing leaders to impact change within their organizations.

* Program C and E cohorts spend a full year in a district-paid leadership residency, under a practicing principal.

* Program E does not offer a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. Program E requires a Master's Degree and a minimum of four years' experience to be considered as a candidate. At the end of three-and-one half years, and completion of all requirements, participants earn a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

Discussion

The following implications and recommendations for Leadership Preparation Programs at the M.Ed. level resulted from this study:

* A rigorous recruitment and selection process appears essential.

* Formal interviews, as a part of the selection process, provide a beneficial component in identifying the strongest candidates.

* Internships, up to one year, provide multiple opportunities for learning and leading during day-to-day situations.

* Effective principals serving as mentors and/or coaches provide beneficial support to the students.

* Coursework integrated with field experience, connecting research, theory, and practice, appears to better prepare principals to lead and impact change.

* Cohort models allow for powerful conversations among group members, bringing diverse experiences to the discussion.

* District partnerships appear to be beneficial to programs and districts.

* Visiting exemplar university programs could prove beneficial for leadership preparation programs.

These characteristics provide direction for preparation programs to assess their current practice against these findings. An assessment instrument has been developed and recommended for field-testing.

The research from this study led to several conclusions concerning best practices that attributed to the success of the five exemplar leadership preparation programs at the master's degree level. Based on the results of the research, a rigorous recruitment and selection process is critical in determining candidates who are qualified to lead organizations and bring about change. These candidates performed at a higher level academically, had two or more years of experience, and their interviews and/or reference letters confirmed that they could handle the demands and high expectations required of these programs.

The internship component has proven to be beneficial as well. All five directors agreed that the mentor and cognitive coaching component enhances the internship experience. Mentors and coaches are selected based on their expertise, not experience. They are selected because they have made a significant impact within their organization and are considered to be transformational principals. The intensive help and support provided by principal coaches help to develop the students' internal capacity to lead.

The district partnerships provide mutually beneficial collaboration between the local schools and districts and the preparation programs in higher education. This partnership engages the district in the design, implementation, and assessment of these exemplar programs. As the district partner impacts candidate selection, provides input into relevant and authentic problem-based content, and assists with selection and preparation of the practicing principal coaches, the partnership is the core of a strong program. For preparation programs, strong partnerships with school districts within an environment of genuine collaboration can enhance all of the other essential components of an exemplary program.

The content and delivery in each of the programs is relevant, problem-based, and customized to meet the needs of the participants and the organization in programs of best practice. Projects are focused on real-world problems within the organization allowing students to collaborate within their cohort team. Directors agreed that students benefit from authentic, problem-solving projects.

This study concluded with the development of two evaluation instruments: a candidate survey that can be used to assess the experiences of former students who have completed the program regarding program quality and an evaluation rubric for leader preparation programs to use as a self-assessment instrument. Both tools are intended to provide open, honest self-assessment as well as direction for program change based on the results.

The candidate survey assesses the experiences of former students who have completed the program regarding program quality. The evaluation rubric, named the Campanotta-Simpson Rubric for Principal Preparation Programs, guides the measurement of components as revealed by study of the country's top principal preparation programs reported as essential in exemplar programs. The Campanotta-Simpson rubric measures the following program components: selection of candidates, content and delivery methods, student assessments, and district partnerships. This self-assessment instrument is designed to assist programs in expanding best practices and taking these practices to a higher level of implementation.

While the findings are consistent with current practice in many strong preparation programs, the study finds for a level of emphasis that expands on these practices. The products of the research, both the student evaluation survey and the self-assessment tool, provide educational leadership preparation programs with insight concerning the enhancement of existing programs.

LINDA CAMPANOTTA

Vincent Shelby County Schools, Shelby County, Alabama

PATRICIA SIMPSON

Homewood City Schools, Homewood, Alabama

JODI NEWTON

Samford University

References

Braun, D., Gable, R. K., & Kite, S. L. (2011). Relationship among essential leadership preparation practices and leader, school, and student outcomes in K-8 schools. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation,6(3), 1-21. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fuIltext/EJ974245 pdf

Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO] (2008) Educational leadership policy standards: I S L L C 2008 as adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Retrieved from http://ccsso.org

Cheney, G. R., & Davis, J. (2011). Gateways to the principalship: State power to improve the quality of school leaders. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED535990.pdf

Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO] (2008) Educational leadership policy standards: I S L L C 2008 as adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Retrieved from http://ccsso.org

Council of Chief State School Officers [CCSSO] (2012). Our responsibility, our promise: Transforming education preparation and entry into the profession. 1-41. Retrieved from http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2012/ Our Responsibility Our Promise 2012.pdf

Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/2010332_l.pdf

Fusarelli, B. C. (2008). The changing nature of leadership preparation. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 12(2). Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/natureleadership.pdf

Griffin, L. L., Taylor, T. R., Varner. L. W., & While, C. W. (2012). Staying the course: A model leadership preparation program that goes the distance. Planning and Changing, 43(1), 57-71. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ977547.pdf

Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards [ISLLC] (2014, March 02). Retrieved from http://www.schoolbriefing.com/isllc-standards

LaPointe, M., & Davis, S. (2006). Exemplary programs produce strong instructional leaders. San Francisco, CA: Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Preparing and supporting principals for effective leadership: Early findings from Stanford's school leadership study (pp. 1-32, Rep.). San Francisco, CA: Stanford Educational Leadership Institute. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service)

Levine, A. (2005, March). Educating school leaders. The Education Schools Project, 23. Retrieved from http://www.edschools.org/pdf/Final313.pdf

Murphy, J. T. (2006). Dancing lessons for elephants: Reforming educational school leadership programs. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(1), 489-491. Retrieved from http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/87/7/489.fullpdf+html

Reed, C. J., & Kensler, L. A. (2010). Creating a new system for principal preparation: Reflections on efforts to transcend tradition and create new cultures. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 5(12.10), 568-582. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ913603.pdf

Southern Regional Educational Board [SREB] (2006). Schools can't wait: Accelerating the redesign of university principal preparation programs. Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2006/06V04_Schools_Cant_Wait.pdf

Southern Regional Educational Board [SREB] (2010). School leadership change emerging in Alabama: Results of the Governor's Congress on school leadership. Retrieved from http://publications.sreb.org/2010/1OV14 Leadership Reform Alabama.pdf

Caption: Table 2. Attributes of Five Exemplar Leadership Preparation Programs
Table 1. Frequency of Responses of
Value of Attributes of Programs

Indicators                  Programs A   Programs B   Programs C

Selective Admission             8            8            7
Criteria

Content and Delivery            15           9            6

Principal Coaching              2            4            4

Cohort Model                    5            3            5

District Partnership            3            5            5

Customized Courses              2            5            2

Resource Funding                1            2            5

Problem Based Assessment        5            6            3

Program Changes in              4            10           9
Last 5-7 Years

Program Evaluation              2            4            2

Indicators                  Programs D   Programs E

Selective Admission             8            7
Criteria

Content and Delivery            10           12

Principal Coaching              7            11

Cohort Model                    7            5

District Partnership            6            9

Customized Courses              3            6

Resource Funding                2            4

Problem Based Assessment        7            10

Program Changes in              5            9
Last 5-7 Years

Program Evaluation              5            10

Table 3. Content and Delivery Methods

                                                  Internship
Programs          Program Schedule               Compensation

A          15-month program, 2 (6-week)     No compensation
           summer classes

B          9-month full time residential    Internship not required
           program                          hut encouraged

C          14-month full time program       Compensated full time
                                            internship

D          14-month program with evening    Internship required,
           classes                          but not compensated
           2 (8-week) summer classes
           8:30-3:30

E          3 1/2 year full-time program     Compensated full time
                                            internship

           Problem-Based       District
Programs    Components       Partnerships

A          Required        As needed

B          Required        Yes

C          Required        Vitally Important

D          Required        Varying

E          Required        Vitally Important
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Author:Campanotta, Linda; Simpson, Patricia; Newton, Jodi
Publication:Education
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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