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The Preparation of Principal License Completers: A Longitudinal Study, Year One (Sumario en espanol)

Module by: Larry D. Cook. E-mail the author

Summary: The results from a survey of Principal License Completers (PLCs) from a small, private university in the Midwest reveal that required principal preparation classes, especially school law, and the internship activities were the most meaningful experiences. All 200 PLCs from 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 were invited to participate in the study centering on how well prepared for the principalship they felt they were as the theoretical framework. In the survey administered during the spring of 2010, PLCs assessed their principal preparation program: most meaningful experiences, changes recommended, and problems they were least prepared to solve. They suggest adding more instruction related to special education and school law, and additional experiences working closely with a building principal. PLCs feel least prepared to solve problems related to special education, the classroom instruction process, and discipline.

Sumario en espanol

Los resultados de una encuesta de Completers de licencia principal (PLC) de una pequeña universidad privada en el medio oeste revelan que requiere preparación principales clases, especialmente el derecho de escuela y las actividades de pasantías eran las experiencias más significativas. Todos los 200 PLC desde 2007-2008 y 2008-2009 se invitó a participar en el estudio centrado en cómo preparado para la dirección que se sentían que estaban como el marco teórico. En la encuesta administrada durante la primavera de 2010, el PLC evaluaron su programa de preparación principal: experiencias más significativas, cambios recomendados y problemas estaban menos dispuestos a resolver. Proponen agregar que más instrucciones relacionadas con la educación especial y la escuela de derecho y adicional experiencias trabajando estrechamente con un edificio principal. PLC sienten menos dispuesta a resolver los problemas relacionados a la educación especial, el proceso de instrucción de aula y disciplina.

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Note:

This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module is published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Volume 5, Number 4 (October - December, 2010), ISSN 2155-9635. Formatted and edited in Connexions by Theodore Creighton and Brad Bizzell, Virginia Tech.

Introduction

Today school principals are responsible for one significant new factor compared to principals of just a decade or two earlier, that is, improving the learning performance of all students in their buildings. Principals must still perform the challenging managerial tasks such as developing students’ academic schedules, creating the master schedule for teacher responsibilities, accounting for the expenditures from their limited building budgets, and determining who will monitor the cafeteria, bus duty, hallway, and study hall assignments. However, today these management duties are regarded as minor challenges compared to the demand by all PreK-12 stakeholders for accountability and increasing expectations for high-quality teaching, for the professional development and growth of everyone working in their buildings, and, most importantly, for markedly improved achievement scores of all kids enrolled in their buildings.

Significance of the Changing Role of the Principal

Other than the teacher in each classroom, many education experts feel the principal in each building is the most significant factor in achieving improvements in student learning and positive changes in weak teachers (Gutmore, Strobert, & Gutmore, 2009; Harris, 2006; Johns, 2010). In an interview with Senator Al Franken concerning the bill Senator Franken introduced in Congress to improve principal training, Emily Johns (2010) quotes Franken as he discusses the research done by Arthur Levine and his associates: “What the research shows is that the quality of principals makes an enormous difference in terms of student achievement” (p. 1). If long-term changes are to be made, building by building and classroom by classroom, principals must lead those transformational change efforts. Logically, it follows that the responsibility for improving overall student achievement eventually ends up on the principal’s desk.

Criticism of Principal Preparation Programs

Even though there is a growing trend for non-profits, for-profits, and even large school districts to provide principal preparation programs, their numbers remain quite small in comparison to the large number of preparation programs offered at higher education institutions across the country. Levine (2005) found that 88% of principals still get their licenses through university preparation programs. In recent years, these principal preparation programs, offered through colleges of education and their departments of educational administration (EDAD), have come under intense scrutiny related to the quality of their graduates and their readiness to assume this new leadership role required of today’s principals (Gutmore, Strobert, & Gutmore, 2009; Kelly & Hess, 2005). Are these EDAD programs adequately preparing principals for tomorrow’s schools and future generations of students who will have to live and compete in an increasingly competitive global world? Many school administrator practitioners, education experts, and those working in principal preparation programs say no. Arthur Levine (2005), former president of Columbia University, in his seminal research report titled Educating School Leaders, which was written for the National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Leadership Preparation, stated, “This study found the overall quality of educational administration programs in the United States to be poor. The majority of the programs range from inadequate to appalling, even at some of the country’s leading universities. Collectively, school leadership programs are not successful on any of the nine quality criteria” (p. 23). Senator Al Franken, in his interview with Johns (2010) regarding principal preparation, quotes Levine: “The quality of preparation for people to become principals is really dreadful. We haven’t found the magic bullet…” (p. 2).

Others have expressed similar thoughts. Quinn (2005) put it this way, “Another way to strengthen principal preparation programs is to completely overhaul outdated university curriculum content. Course work and field-based learning must emphasize instructional leadership as the gold standard of good principals, and move away from the traditional emphasis on school management” (p. 14). Reacting to the articles commissioned by the National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Leadership Preparation, Usdan (2002) expressed the urgency of the issue, “The field of educational leadership preparation desperately needs to be transformed as expeditiously as possible” (p. 306).

Improving Principal Preparation

Many experts and those directly involved in the preparation of principals—professors, public school principals who act as mentors, and even past and present students in preparation programs—offer opinions about what needs to be done to prepare principals for the challenges of transforming teaching and learning. Levine (2005) interviewed administrators who were alumni of well-known EDAD programs. They described four resources that need to be improved: “(1) faculty with more experience as practitioners, (2) a more relevant curriculum, (3) upgraded technology, and (4) curriculum that requires more clinical experience” (p. 39). Nelson, de la Colina, and Boone (2008), in their description of how to prepare school leaders, stated the following: “ Moreover, in a comprehensive study of exemplary leadership preparation programs, Darling-Hammond et al. found that one of the key similarities among effective programs was a focus on instructional leadership and school improvement” (p. 699). Sherman (2008) studied the factors leading to success of first-year principals. He found a strong need “…for a greater connection between university preparation programs and the daily reality of principals’ work” (p. 752).

Feedback from Principal License Completers (PLCs)

There seems to be a dearth of research related to how students in principal preparation programs feel about their preparation after they have earned their license. The author refers to these students as PLCs, Principal License Completers. PLCs have successfully worked through all the courses, activities, and projects. Many have also passed a national test of knowledge related to leadership and building administration, and they have probably been exposed repeatedly to the most recent leadership research. PLCs’ fresh, knowledgeable opinions of their preparation programs—things like what activities and projects helped the most; what they liked best; if they are already in principal positions, what things they were least prepared for; and what changes they would recommend in their colleges’ preparation programs—need to be compared to the experts’ opinions. From this we can better assess which activities and experiences may need to be changed.

Glasman, Cibulka, and Ashby (2002) supported this view. They declared that there is an “…increasing need to view the self-evaluation of leadership preparation programs as a pivotal new starting point in efforts to improve schools. An effective self-evaluation will lead to better preparation programs and, with other conditions, to better subsequent practice” (p. 257). Levine (2005) added, “…school leadership programs do not engage in systematic self-assessment” (p. 23). A thorough self-evaluation should involve recent principal license completers, as well as EDAD faculty responsible for principal preparation programs. In a 2007 article, Edmonds, Waddle, Murphy, Ozturgut, and Caruthers agreed, stating, “…leadership programs need to be more receptive to student concerns regarding delivery” (p. 14).

With this in mind, EDAD faculty decided that a thorough and ongoing self-evaluation of its principal preparation program would be best served by first launching a ten-year, longitudinal study of its recent Principal License Completers (PLCs). The initial survey gathered PLC thoughts and opinions on these subjects: what were the most helpful and meaningful activities performed during the course work and internship, responsibilities they were least prepared to perform as they began their principal position, and instructional practices, activities, and projects that need to be changed.

Research Questions

1. Do Principal License Completers (PLCs) perceive the principal preparation program to be effective?

2. What elements of the preparation program do PLCs perceive to be most valuable?

3. What do PLCs perceive to be the elements of the preparation program that need improved?

Method

Participants

Letters of invitation to participate in a ten-year, longitudinal study were sent to all 200 students who earned a principal license during the 2007-08 or 2008-09 academic years. The letter emphasized the importance of the opinions of our Principal License Completers (PLCs), especially in regards to strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for improvements in the EDAD principal preparation course work, activities, and projects. Obviously, EDAD faculty members were also very interested in basic demographic information and baseline information related to PLCs’ current positions and career aspirations.

The letter asked PLCs who were interested in participating in the longitudinal study to email the department chair declaring their interest. The PLC survey was mailed to those who agreed to participate, along with brief instructions and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Four weeks later a second letter of invitation was sent to all PLCs who had not yet responded. This resulted in approximately ten additional PLC participants. A total of 71 PLCs indicated they would participate. Sixty-one of the 71 actually returned the survey.

Instrument

The survey instrument used for the first year of the 10-year study was developed by the department chair after discussions with EDAD faculty, EDAD students currently enrolled in the principal preparation program, and considerable reflection by the chair related to experiences with employing, mentoring, and evaluating beginning principals while employed as a superintendent. Using ten volunteer students who will earn their principal license during the current year, a test of stability reliability of the survey instrument was completed by having them complete the survey instrument twice, approximately two weeks apart. The results were positive.

Findings

The findings from this initial survey for the longitudinal study were quite positive in regards to many parts of the principal preparation program, while, at the same time, describing several instructional practices, activities, and issues the faculty can analyze, study, and act on to better prepare PLCs to meet the challenges principals face today.

Research Questions

1. Do Principal License Completers (PLCs) perceive the principal license preparation program to be effective?

Results after the first survey show that recent PLCs feel their principal license preparation program was effective. The last item on the survey asked PLCs to give the EDAD department a letter grade for the overall preparation program, on a 4.00 scale, with an A being worth four points. The “grade point average” was 3.44.

2. What elements of the preparation program do PLCs perceive to be most valuable?

By far the most frequent response category was the “Classes” PLCs took during their preparation program, with the “Law” classes listed most often, followed by classes involving practitioners’ presentations, and classes involving discussions, finance, and practical applications. The “Internship” was the second highest rated category. “Professors” and “Schedule” were also high response categories. See Table 1 for a summary of the highest rated responses.

3. What do PLCs perceive to be the elements of the preparation program that need improved?

In the category titled “Classes/Instruction,” PLCs stressed the need for more instruction related to law and special education. Under “Internship,” they want more experiences with a principal and fewer activities they perceive as busy work, such as critiquing journal articles. Other responses of interest included more online instruction and more handouts related to contracts, parent communications, and policies. See Table 2. In response to a question about what they feel least prepared to successfully perform as a principal, PLCs most frequent response, different from what they previously rated high, was the category “Discipline.” See Table 3.

Table 1: Most Helpful and Best Liked Activities in PLCs’ Preparation
Categories and Explanations of Most Helpful and Best Liked Activities What were the most meaningful and helpful learning activities in AU’s Principal License Preparation Program? Listed by frequency of response under each category, with most frequently mentioned category first. No limit on the number of responses participants could list What did you like best about the Principal License Preparation Program? Order of responses is based on the “Most Meaningful and Helpful” column. No limit on the number of responses participants could list
Classes 83 41
Law 19 3
Practitioners’ presentations 7 3
Discussions 4 2
Finance 4 1
Practical 4 8
Group work 3 2
Networking 3 6
Adjuncts more in tune; Assignments meaningful; Family feeling; Online instruction; Work intensity just right Each reported 2 times Hands-on activities reported 6 times; Family feeling and Assignments that were meaningful and thought-provoking both reported 2 times;
Internship 34 10
Interviews 7 0
Conference attendance 5 0
Real issues 4 2
Participants just wrote “Internship” 17 8
Professors 5 40
Communications 1 8
Practitioners (full-time and adjuncts) N/A 4
Information N/A 4
Profs, by name N/A 4
Participants just said “Professors” 4 9
Schedule 3 26
Fits with work 3 11
Close to home N/A 9
Flexible N/A 6

Note. Categories and sub-categories with a very low number of responses are not included.

Table 2: Changes Suggested by PLCs for Principal Licensure
Categories and Explanations of Changes Suggested What changes do you suggest for PLC Preparation?
Classes/Instruction 36
Law 7
More needed 3
Special education 3
Special education—need more 3
Handouts—need more related to 3
Contracts, Parent communications, Policies 3
Online instruction—use more 3
Discipline 2
Questioning students; Teacher/staff discipline 2
Technology integration 2
Internship 19
Articles—require fewer—this is busy work 4
Shadow principal before Internship; sub for principal 5 days 5
Interviews—replace some activities/articles 3
Activities—many not applicable 1
Just wrote “Internship” 4
No changes needed 5
Professors 4
Connect more with students; need less of their personal philosophy 2
Evaluation—more input into 1
Practitioners—need more, need their experience 1
Eliminate/change these things 3
Duplicate classes; technology course 2
Explain better the difference between M.Ed. and Licensure 1
Networking---need more ; mentor contacts 3
Career/job support—need more; Job fair for EDAD students 2
Observations—more of principals 1
Resumes, letters of interest—need more help 1

Note. Categories and sub-categories with a very low number of responses are not included.

Table 3: Least Prepared for in 1st Principal/Assistant Principal Job (Not yet employed as Princ./Asst. Principal); Wish Had Been Better Prepared for When Employed in 1st Principal/Assistant Principal Job
Categories and explanations of responses Activities and issues will be least prepared for when employed in first principal or assistant principal position. Most frequent response listed first. No limit on number of responses. Activities and issues wish had been better prepared for when employed in first principal or assistant principal position—already employed as principal or assistant principal. Order of responses based on middle column. No limit on responses.
Instruction-related 14 6
Special education 4 1
Evaluations 3 3
Curriculum (benchmarking,etc.) 2 1
Best practices 1 0
Data—using in re curriculum 1 0
Finance 1 0
Teachers—helping poor teachers 1 0
Technology 1 0
Discipline-related 8 7
Attendance issues 1 1
Disciplining students while supporting teachers 1 0
Expulsion hearings 1 1
Law enforcement—working with 1 0
No classes discussed this 1 0
Suspensions 1 1
Conflicts with parents/employees 1 3
Participants wrote “Discipline” 2 1
Politics 7 2
Administrators 2 0
Boards 2 1
District 1 0
Media interaction 1 1
Speaking up…or not 1 0
Personal    
Management    

Note. Categories and sub-categories with a very low number of responses are not included.

Discussion

In recent years principal preparation programs in colleges of education have been severely criticized because of what a number of researchers, scholars, and practitioners describe as principals unable to successfully assume the challenging new role of transformational leader, that is, the person responsible in the end for the learning and academic achievement of all students in their buildings (Kelly & Hess, 2005). To add to its knowledge from the literature, EDAD faculty chose to engage in an ongoing self-evaluation of its preparation program by launching a ten-year, longitudinal study of its Principal License Completers.

Findings from the survey in year one show that recent Principal License Completers feel their principal preparation was effective. In fact, the last item on the survey asked PLCs to give the EDAD department a letter grade for their overall preparation, on a 4.00 scale, with an A being worth four points. The “grade point average” was 3.44. Several questions come to mind when thinking about that average. Since most of the PLCs are not yet employed as principals, will that average rise or fall as PLCs attempt to find principal jobs and experience the ups and downs of that search? Will the average rise or fall as PLCs land that first principal job and experience the reality of the demands on today’s principals? Future results from the longitudinal study should help answer these and other questions related to PLC satisfaction with the principal preparation program.

When analyzing what PLCs perceived was most valuable in their preparation, the category of “Classes” they took was listed most often, especially law, finance, and what they described as practical classes. They also place high value on class discussions. Internship experiences were also mentioned by most of the participants, especially the interviews, the professional conference requirement, and what they described as “real issues.” Along with “Classes,” the “Professors” category was mentioned often, with emphasis on professors’ communication skills, and the fact that many professors, both full-time and adjuncts, had been or were currently practitioners. Various aspects of how and where classes are scheduled was also a very positive aspect of PLCs’ satisfaction with the preparation program.

PLCs’ suggestions for improvements will undoubtedly create considerable analysis and discussion during EDAD faculty meetings in 2010-11. Many of the suggestions in Table 2 refer to needing more of a particular class activity or experience, for example, more law, special education, and handouts related to contracts and parent communications, policies, and more online instruction. The same can be said for internship-related suggestions: more time in real-life experiences with a principal and perhaps doing a few more interviews rather than some of the activities now required. It certainly is not a surprise for former and current principals to see that PLCs expressed a need for more information about handling discipline situations, both with students and staff. PLCs also want more information and experience with integrating technology into principal’s routine responsibilities.

A large number of survey participants said that although they thought the internship was one of the strongest parts of their preparation program, they also indicated EDAD faculty should consider replacing some of the articles that must be critiqued with other more meaningful experiences. The specific concern was that the large number of critiques and some of the activities seemed like busy work and not especially applicable to principal preparation.

Limitations

The sample selected did not include all of the Principal License Completers (PLCs) from 2007-08 and 2008-09, let alone PLCs from other colleges in Ohio or other parts of the country. Results from the first year of this longitudinal study could be confirmed or argued against by sampling other colleges’ PLCs.

Reliability and validity are generally a concern with survey designs, especially where the survey instrument has to be created, which was the case with this study. A test for stability reliability was conducted, but there was no test for internal consistency reliability. Although considerable effort was made to construct clear, concise, commonly-understood survey statements and response explanations, the participants may not have all interpreted them that way. Conducting several interviews and comparing the results may have improved reliability. In any self-reporting survey instrument, validity of the results is an issue. The survey responses may not have identified the real thoughts and feelings of the participating PLCs as they reflected back on their preparation experiences. Only the participants themselves know for certain whether their responses validly represent the facts. However, since there was no threat to the participants—for example, professors lowering grades because of negative feedback—in all likelihood, their responses accurately reflected their true opinions and attitudes, at least at this time in their careers.

Conclusion

With just one year of data from the Principal License Completers (PLCs) in this ten-year, longitudinal study, EDAD faculty must guard against being too satisfied with the overall positive feedback from our recent PLCs. Continued principal practitioner experience for PLCs currently employed as principals and beginning practitioner experience as principals for any newly-employed PLCs could shed new understanding and opinions about how the principal license preparation program might be improved. However, it is encouraging that a large majority of the responses to the research questions summarized in the “Discussion” are a very close match to the suggestions for improvement from Levine and other experts. For example, Levine (2005) talked about “…curriculum that requires more clinical experience,” (p. 39) and PLCs suggested more time working with a principal and possibly even substituting for the principal for a week. These suggestions from PLCs also support comments from Sherman (2008) when he concluded that there is a need “…for a greater connection between university preparation programs and the daily reality of principals’ work” (p. 752).

Implications for Further Research

Our EDAD faculty can seek answers from PLCs to a number of questions in the coming years of this longitudinal study. For example, we certainly will want to know where PLCs go for their first and subsequent principal positions, and why they made those decisions. We can inquire as to how their opinions and suggestions change as they obtain principal experience. PLCs will certainly be an excellent source of feedback regarding changes that are made in the principal preparation program during this ten-year study.

Hopefully, the broad parameters of this longitudinal study will motivate other departments of educational administration, as well as our own department, to consider different research questions related to improving principal preparation. For example, (1) Would a longer internship experience better prepare aspiring principals for the real world of the building principalship? (2) How have the opinions of employers related to principal preparation changed in recent years? (3) Are the candidates coming from principal preparation programs prepared for the increasing demands for instructional leadership? (4) What is being done in higher education preparation programs to better prepare principals to turn around failing schools?

References

Edmonds, C. A., Waddle, J. L., Murphy, C. H., Ozturgut, O., & Caruthers, L. E. (2007). Leading the learning: What Missouri principals say about their preparation programs. AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, 3(4), 14-21. Retrieved from www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx

Glasman, N., Cibulka, J., & Ashby, D. (2002). Program self-evaluation for continuous improvement. Educational Administration Quarterly 38(2), 257-288. doi: 10.1177/0013161x02382008

Gutmore, D., Strobert, B., & Gutmore, R. F. (2009). Meeting the needs: A best practice grow your own school leader program. AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, 6(1), 33-39. Retrieved from www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx

Harris, S. L. (2006). Best practices of award-winning public school principals: Implications for University preparation programs. AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, 3(2), 30-41. Retrieved from www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx

Johns, E. (2010, February 16). A discussion on the principles of principals. Minneapolis StarTribune, pp. 1, 2. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/politics/80868822.html?page-3&c=y

Kelly, A. P., & Hess, F. (2005). The accidental principal: What doesn’t get taught at ed schools? Education Next, 5(3), 1-7.

Levine, A. (2005). Educating school leaders. The Education Schools Project, 1-86. Retrieved from www.edschools.org/reports_leaders.htm

Nelson, S. W., de la Colina, M. G., & Boone, M. D. (2008). Lifeworld or systemsworld: What guides novice principals? Journal of Educational Administration, 46(6), 690-701. doi: 10.1108/09578230810908280

Quinn, T. (2005, May/June). Leadership development: The principal-university connection. Principal, 12-16. Retrieved from http://www.naesp.org/resources/2/Principal/2005/M-Jp12.pdf

Sherman, A. (2008). Using case studies to visualize success with first year principals. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(6), 752-761. doi: 10.1108/09578230810908334

Usdan, M. (2002). Reactions to articles commissioned by the National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Leadership Preparation. Educational Administration Quarterly 38(2), 300-307. doi: 10.1177/0013161x02382010

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