Learning to Lead: What Gets Taught in Principal-Preparation Programs
by Frederick M. Hess & Andrew P. Kelly - 2007
School leadership is the key to school improvement. In a new era of accountability, where school leaders are expected to demonstrate bottom-line results and use data to drive decisions, the skill and knowledge of principals matter more than ever. Meanwhile, public school choice, charter schooling, developments in teacher compensation and hiring, and site-based budgeting have created new opportunities for principal leadership. In this environment, school improvement rests to an unprecedented degree on school leaders.
Purpose/Objective/Research question/Focus of study
Today, school principals are asked to lead in a new world marked by unprecedented responsibilities, challenges, and managerial opportunities. Are principal-preparation programs equipping their charges for this new role?
We examined the content of instruction at a stratified sample of the nation’s principal-preparation programs, including the programs training the most candidates, the programs regarded as the most prestigious, and more typical programs.
Data collection and analysis
We surveyed 56 programs and collected at least four “core” course syllabi from 31 that met the standards permitting systematic coding for a total of 210 syllabi. The syllabi yielded 2,424 total course weeks.
Just 2 percent of 2,424 course weeks addressed accountability in the context of school management or school improvement, and less than 5 percent included instruction on managing school improvement via data, technology, or empirical research. Of 360 course weeks devoted to personnel management, just 12 weeks mentioned teacher dismissal and nine mentioned teacher compensation.
Critics often assert that education schools are ideological. In fact, just 12 percent of all course weeks focused upon norms and values. In the norms-and-values lessons, however, there was strong evidence of normative bias in the topic descriptions and assigned readings.
There was little attention to management thinkers from outside of the narrow field of educational administration. Of the 50 most influential living management thinkers, as determined by a 2003 survey of management professionals and scholars, just nine were assigned a total of 29 times in the 210 courses.
The evidence raises questions about whether preparation is well-matched to the contemporary world of schooling, and whether graduates of principal-preparation programs are being equipped for the challenges and opportunities posed by an era of accountability. This study suggests new avenues for future research, including the degree to which syllabi actually reflect the content of instruction and what approaches to instruction or assessment are employed in the course of principal preparation.
School leadership is the key to school improvement. School principals are the front-line managers, the small business executives, the team leaders charged with leading their faculty to new levels of effectiveness. In this new era of educational accountability, where school leaders are expected to demonstrate bottom-line results and use data to drive decisions, the skill and knowledge of principals matter more than ever. The rise of charter schooling, increasing school choice, and more flexible teacher compensation and hiring have granted thousands of principals new opportunities to exercise discretion and operate with previously unimagined leeway. In this environment, school improvement rests to an unprecedented degree on the quality of school leadership.
Superintendents make clear that they hold new and more demanding expectations for principals. Public Agenda notes that when todays superintendents describe what they are trying to accomplish they use the words accountability, instructional leadership, closing the achievement gap, [and] teacher quality (Farkas, Johnson, & Duffett, 2003, p. 22). However, principals themselves suggest that they are not fully equipped for all of the challenges they face. Just 36 percent of principals report that tougher scrutiny of teachers is resulting in denied tenure for weak teachers and just 30 percent reported that students assessed performance is being factored into the evaluation of teachers (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 21).
In this changing context, an array of scholars have asked whether traditional approaches to preparing and licensing principals are sufficient (Elmore, 2000; Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2003; Hess, 2003; Murphy, 2001a; Tucker, 2003). Leaders of the University Council for Education Administration have asserted that in order to build programs that support leadership for learningwe must rethink and revise our practice in several areas (Young & Kochan, 2004, p. 121). Theodore Kowalski (2004), an influential scholar of educational administration, has advocated substantial reforms in administrator preparation, program accreditation, and state licensing standards (p. 93).
Principals themselves are among the first to agree that they need to be more effectively prepared for their jobs. All but 4 percent of practicing principals report that on-the-job experiences or guidance from colleagues has been more helpful in preparing them for their current position than their graduate school studies. In fact, 67 percent of principals reported that typical leadership programs in graduate schools of education are out of touch with the realities of what it takes to run todays school districts (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 39).
A recent four-year study by the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, Arthur Levine (2005), raised the stakes in this debate by harshly assessing the quality of educational administration programs. Based on a survey of practicing principals and education school deans, chairs, faculty, and alumni, as well as case studies of 25 school leadership programs, Levine (2005) concluded that the majority of [educational administration] programs range from inadequate to appalling, even at some of the countrys leading universities (p. 23). In particular, he found that the typical course of studies required of principal candidates was largely disconnected from the realities of school management, though Levine did not seek to analyze the content of these courses. In light of the Levine analysis, and given the increasing demands on school leaders, the question of what candidates are actually being taught in principal preparation has taken on heightened significance.
Unfortunately, there exists no systematic information addressing this question. In this study, we set out to examine what candidates are taught in the core courses that constitute principal preparation at established principal-preparation programs. In doing so, we hope to provide a first, imperfect, examination of this important topic.
This question includes a range of more specific queries and concerns, including:
Are principals taught the fundamentals of management?
Are principals trained in instruction and pedagogy?
Is there evidence of a clear ideological direction in instruction?
Is there notable variation among the preparation offered in the most prestigious, the largest, and more typical institutions?
Absent a clear understanding of just what principals are learning in the course of their preparation, debates about how we should change principal preparation or about the importance of preparation and licensure rest more on faith than fact. Inevitably, we approach the analysis with certain conceptions of the skills and knowledge that contemporary principals require. We believe that effective principal preparation ought to include considerable attention to accountability, managing with data, and utilizing research; to hiring, recruiting, evaluating, and terminating personnel; to overseeing an effective instructional program; and to exposing candidates to diverse views regarding educational and organizational management. The findings here do not provide clear-cut prescriptions as to what programs should teach, but can raise thought-provoking questions for educational administration researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers seeking to improve existing arrangements.
We examined the course units and required readings contained in 210 syllabi collected from a national cross-section of 31 principal-preparation programs. While some in the professional education community have argued that syllabi can tell us nothing about a course or, as David Labaree has suggested, are nothing more than ideological portraits (quoted in Keller, 2003, p. 8), this study presumes that university syllabi generally reflect the content and perspective of the courses being taught. While syllabi cannot convey the tone of classroom instruction, they enumerate what topics professors will cover and what students will read. Ultimately, this study rests on the notion that syllabi are like blueprints: they reveal structure and design, even if they do not fully reflect what real-life instruction looks like. Recognizing that blueprints necessarily lack context, we sought to avoid relying upon simple word counts. Rather, we gauged the emphasis of each lesson and coded each into one of seven areas of principal competency. Within each area, we then coded the various lessons based on their primary focus. This two-step approach allowed us to provide a broad take on the curricular landscape and to explore particular topics in some detail.
Almost no current research systematically documents the content studied in the nations principal-preparation programs, the instructional focus, or the readings assigned to students. Beyond the 2005 Levine study, recent research and commentary has focused on the need to reshape the principals role so that school leaders are more focused on increasing student achievement, driving school improvement, and meeting the challenges of standards-based accountability and charter schools (Grogan & Andrews, 2002; Portin, Schneider, DeArmond, & Grundlach, 2003). In this study, we document the attention devoted to seven areas of principal responsibility, each of which have been deemed vital to effective school leadership by at least some leading thinkers in the field. The seven are: managing for results, managing personnel, technical knowledge, external leadership, norms and values, managing classroom instruction, and leadership and school culture. Clearly, there are other ways to frame this list of skills and other skills that might be included, but we believe this a useful and constructive rubric for examining the attention devoted to important areas of knowledge.
Scholars of educational leadership have highlighted the importance of each of these seven categories. First, the managing for results category, as envisioned for this study, mirrors the skills set forth by Tucker and Codding (2002). They suggested that preparation should stress the principals role as the driver for results and highlight the crucial role of data in the drive for results, from the careful setting of targets to the collection, display, and analysis of implementation and outcome data to the use of data for setting goals, monitoring progress, allocating and reallocating resources, and managing the school program (p. 37).
Second, the principals role in managing personnel has taken on new significance as the pressures of accountability increase the expectations on school leaders to hire, induct, and evaluate personnel in a sensible manner. As the most commonly assigned human resources text states, School districts are ethically bound to find the most talented and skilled people available to achieve their mandate of educating children (Rebore, 2004, p. 93). Recent survey data from Public Agenda reveals that 78 percent of superintendents and 57 percent of principals believe that principals are evaluated based on their ability to judge and improve teacher quality (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 21).
Third, the longstanding emphasis on technical knowledge of school law, school finance, and facilities management in principal preparation has fallen out of favor of late. As Ferrandino and Tirozzi (2004) recently put it, Yesterdays principal was often a desk-bound, disciplinarian building manager who was more concerned with the buses running on time than academic outcomes. Nonetheless, teaching aspiring principals this body of vocational knowledge remains an identifiable, significant element of instruction. Recent survey data reveal that 82 percent of principals report dealing with school facilities, resources, or procedures every day while only 40 percent say the same about driving student achievement (Leading for Learning, 2004).
Fourth, issues of external leadership loom large in the educational administration discourse. Scholars of educational leadership have pointed out the importance of dealing with external constituencies and attending to school board relations, school-community partnerships, and school politics (Bagin & Gallagher, 2001; Kowalski, 1995). As Hoy and Miskel (2005) point out in one commonly assigned leadership text, understanding the existing and budding environmental influences is of extreme importance to school administrators (p. 241).
Fifth, educational administration thinkers and scholars have long argued for the centrality of norms and values in promoting equitable and effective schooling (Sergiovanni, 1992; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999; Meier, 1995; Cochran-Smith, 2004). Marilyn Cochran-Smith (2004) asserts that because schooling is inherently political, participants in the educational process deliberately claim the role of educator as well as activist based on political consciousness and on ideological commitment to diminishing the inequities of American life (p. 19).
Finally, receiving less attention in this analysisin part because they are the most commonly discussed elements of leadership preparationare the topics instructional leadership and school culture. Instructional leadership, in particular, tends to encompass the many different facets of school management (DuFour, 2002; King, 2002; Murphy, 2001b Supovitz & Poglinco, 2001; Elmore, 2000). For the purposes of this study, we have adopted a focused conception of instructional leadership that emphasizes matters of pedagogy, curriculum, and classroom management.1 With regard to culture, leading scholars have observed, School culture affects every part of the enterprise from what faculty talk about in the lunch room, to the type of instruction that is valued . . . to the importance of learning for all students (Peterson & Deal, 1999, p. 7). While both sets of issues are important, this study focuses more upon the prevalence of skills that are newly significant in educational leadership.
To date, existing research has not scrutinized the attention devoted to each of these vital management questions in the course of principal preparation. The only previously published study to explore the content of administrator preparation using course syllabi was conducted by Nicolaides and Gaynor (1992). The authors analyzed 36 syllabi from doctoral programs at the 37 University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) programs to examine the focus of administrative theory courses and isolated five basic themes: theoretical and historical foundations, process and change, sociopolitical structures, leadership, and culture and symbols. A related effort by Norton and Levan (1987) surveyed UCEA doctoral programs and found that more than 60 percent of content addressed managing personnel, school administration, and technical knowledge of law and finance.
Two recent studies, conducted by Steiner and Rozen (2004) and Butin (2004), have examined the content of syllabi in teacher-preparation programs. Steiners analysis examined 165 required-course syllabi from 14 elite teacher-preparation programs and two other programs, focusing specifically on the areas of foundations, reading instruction, and math instruction. Butin analyzed 89 education foundations syllabi from 85 teacher-preparation programs that had syllabi posted on the Internet. Steiner argued that the data showed that teacher-preparation courses were ideologically biased, while Butin disputed Steiners finding.
The field of educational leadership has suffered from a general dearth of systematic scholarly inquiry. Leading authorities have pointedly observed that the overall landscape of educational administration research is considerably bleaker than most would prefer (Murphy & Vriesenga, 2004, p. 11).2 In particular, educational administration scholars have termed the body of research on administrator preparation scant (Lashway, 2003). For instance, a recent effort to analyze the state of administrator preparation conducted by the National Commission for the Advancement of Educational Leadership Preparation (NCAELP) commissioned six papers which yielded essays on topics like the challenges of reforming administrator preparation (Young, Peterson, Short, 2002), the need to rethink the foundations of leadership preparation (Murphy, 2001b, promising training programs across the country (Jackson & Kelley, 2002), and a self-evaluation for preparation programs (Glasman, Cibulka, & Ashby, 2002). While useful, the NCAELP effort did not seek to present systematic data regarding what preparation programs do or what they teach.
The larger body of literature on educational administration preparation reflects the NCAELP effort; it consists primarily of essays or anecdotal descriptions of particular programs. According to Murphy and Vriesenga (2004), between 1975 and 2002, 296 articles on any facet of administrator preparation were published in academic journals. Of these, just 81 (or 27.4%) were empirical in some sense, and just 19 of those addressed any element of administrator preparation curricula.
Most of these 19 articles covered a particular curricular domain like technology (Garland, 1990, Bozeman & Spuck, 1991 , diversity (Parker & Shapiro, 1992; Herrity & Glasman, 1999), social justice (Lyman & Villani, 2002), counseling aptitude (Lampe, 1985), supervision and decision-making skills (Sweeney & Moeller, 2001; Roberts, 1991), or special education (Hirth & Valesky, 1990; Sirotnik & Kimball, 1994).3 The only two that were similar to the present inquiry have already been discussed above. Ultimately, Murphy and Vriesenga (2004) have concluded, From the extant research, we know almost nothing about the traditional curricular domains of preparation programs . . . nor . . . the shape of curriculum in a post-theory era where issues around teaching and learning and community are reshaping the profession (p. 24).
This study sought to examine what skills and knowledge are being taught in principal-preparation programs and how that material was being approached.4 Ultimately, we were able to collect 210 syllabi from 31 programs. Data collection, coding, and analysis took place between February and December 2004, and participating scholars and institutions were promised anonymity. In all cases, we collected the most recently available syllabi from each institution. In the handful of cases where programs indicated that old syllabi were obsolete but new syllabi had not yet been constructed, no syllabi were collected.
In early 2004, The U.S. Department of Educations Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) listed 496 administrator-preparation programs. This study drew its sample from three categories of those programs: influential elite programs, large programs that train the most candidates, and more typical programs. This sampling strategy was designed so as to avoid the criticisms that have been made of the Steiner and Rozen (2004) study of teacher preparation syllabi which looked primarily at elite preparation programs, said by critics to be atypical of standard practice. Our sampling strategy allowed us to see whether practices varied between elite and non-elite, or between large and small programs.
The pool of elite programs included the 20 ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2004 as the nations top administration programs (two schools were tied for 20th position). Large programs included the 20 educational leadership preparation programs that awarded the largest number of M.Ed. degrees as reported by IPEDS in 2003.5 IPEDS is the only national source available on completion of administrator-preparation programs, and the 2003 data was the most recent available when the study commenced. A third group of 20 programs was randomly drawn from the remaining universe of IPEDS institutions.
From this initial pool of 61 programs, 56 qualified for analysis. The 21 elite programs yielded a total of 19. One program was excluded because it does not have a principal-preparation program and a second because it operates an unorthodox accelerated licensure track that does not have courses with syllabi. The 20 largest programs yielded 17 eligible for analysis. One program was incorrectly included in the IPEDS rankings. A second was dropped because its M.Ed. in educational leadership does not lead to licensure or certification in any state and requires candidates to take additional courses at other institutions to fulfill state guidelines. A third program offered only a nontraditional certification program without conventional courses.
From this sample of 56 eligible programs, we were able to collect at least four core course syllabi amenable to analysis from 31 (55% of the entire sample of 56).
Of the 19 eligible elite programs, we were able to retrieve at least four core syllabi from 13. Of the 17 eligible large programs, we obtained at least four syllabi from 11 that met our standards for coding. Of the approximately 450 other preparation programs, we randomly selected 20 for inclusion in the third group. Of these, we collected at least four syllabi from 12 of the programs, though only seven sets of syllabi met the standards for systematic coding.
For each program, we sought to collect syllabi for the courses that constituted the core of the principal-preparation program. For those schools that did not have a clearly delineated principal-preparation track, we contacted the institutions to determine which courses were required of principal candidates.
Generally, programs had five to ten core courses that were required of all aspiring principals. Beyond that, some programs required candidates to complete unspecified electives, while others offered candidates a menu of classes from which to choose. In the case of unspecified electives, we did not seek additional materials. In cases where schools required students to take a set number of electives from a specific list of eligible classes, we randomly sampled a number of syllabi from the list equal to the number of required electives.
The final analysis only includes programs from which we collected at least four syllabi from core courses and the specified menu of electives. Consequently, the analysis includes at least four syllabi from each of the 31 programs.
The retrieval process involved three steps. First the schools websites were searched for target syllabi that were available online. At the handful of institutions where the majority of core course syllabi were available online, individual professors who taught the remaining courses were contacted to request additional syllabi. Each faculty member was contacted three times to request their participation.
At the vast majority of institutions, where few or none of the schools syllabi were available online, we contacted the department via email to request the materials. For schools that did not present a clearly delineated list of principal-certification classes, the email requested a list of required courses and the corresponding syllabi. Each program was contacted at least eight times. Occasionally, department chairs deferred to the individual professors to provide their syllabi. In these cases, individuals were contacted at least three times to request their cooperation.
Standards for including syllabi
We were able to collect 243 syllabi in accord with these collection rules.6 To be included in the sample, syllabi had to provide a clear course outline that enumerated specific topics for each week, class, or unit. Syllabi that listed only course objectives or that lacked any obvious weekly structure were not included. Ultimately, these restrictions dictated that we discard 33 deficient syllabi, producing a final total of 210 syllabi. Table 1 outlines how the collected syllabi and course weeks were distributed in terms of the initial sample frame.
Table 1: Distribution of Collected Syllabi and Course Weeks
The various course weeks of instruction were coded according to the seven categories: managing for results, managing personnel, technical knowledge, external leadership, norms and values, managing classroom instruction, and leadership and school culture. The handful of weeks that surveyed multiple topics or that encompassed other specialized topics that did not fit this rubric were coded other.
The managing for results category encompassed course weeks dedicated to school-level program implementation, evaluation, and organizational change efforts that require an active principal role. The specific focus of the weeks that comprise this category typically included issues like accountability, evaluation, assessments, data management, decision-making, strategy, organizational structure, and change.
The weeks coded managing personnel entailed any course weeks that dealt with a principals relations with school employees, primarily teachers but also assistant principals, specialists, and staff members. These weeks discussed issues like recruitment, selection, induction, teacher evaluation, clinical supervision, motivation, conflict management, professional development, and termination or dismissal.
The technical knowledge category entailed all weeks that dealt with instruction on matters of law, finance, facilities, data and research training, or technology. These course weeks discussed school funding, budgeting, due process, church and state, student and teacher freedoms, tort law, literature reviews, sampling, statistical analyses, and database management.
Those weeks coded as addressing external leadership dealt with the instruction that focused on the principals relations with external constituents. Lessons that covered school board relations, collective bargaining, public relations and marketing, parent and community relations, and politics and policy were coded as external leadership.
The norms and values category entailed weeks that exposed principal candidates to different educational and pedagogical philosophies, discussed debates about the nature and purpose of public schooling, and examined the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic context of education (the sociology of education). These weeks typically included lessons on stratification, multiculturalism, diversity, constructivism, inequality, equity, social justice, and gender.
The leadership and school culture weeks encompassed those lessons that discussed leadership theory and the principals role in cultivating school culture. Typical topics in this category included the frames of leadership, symbolic leadership, leadership versus management, creating a school culture, leading with vision, and school climate.
Weeks coded as managing classroom instruction dealt with the principals role and influence on what occurred in the classroom. Course weeks focused on curriculum, learning theories, instructional leadership, pedagogy, classroom management, and collaborative learning were coded as managing classroom instruction.
The primary unit of analysis for this study is the course weekor what principal candidates primarily studied during a week in a given course. Because the 210 syllabi averaged more than ten course weeks apiece, analysis of the full sample yielded a total of 2,424 course weeks.
The initial review sought to examine the amount of attention paid to the various areas of leadership across all coded syllabi. Table 2 shows the relative attention (measured in course weeks) that principal-preparation courses paid to the seven major strands of school leadership outlined above. Programs devoted more than a quarter of their time to technical knowledge, about 15 percent to managing for results and managing personnel, and less to other areas.
Table 2: What Leadership Programs Cover
Striking in Table 2 are the broad similarities across the three kinds of programs. While the critiques of the Steiner study said that elite education school programs were atypical of common practice, we find little evidence of systematic variation among programs in the kinds of topics they address. There are noticeable differences in emphasis, but they are not nearly as distinct as some observers might have anticipated. While the figures in Table 2 should be interpreted with caution, they provide a rough sense of how time was allocated.
Managing for results
Managing for results included those weeks linking school management with issues of quality control, improved performance, and rethinking or restructuring practices and routines. Weeks addressing managing for results focused on school-level implementation, evaluation, and organizational change efforts that require an active principal role. In general, about 16 percent of course weeks were devoted to managing for results.
In an era of No Child Left Behind and aggressive state efforts to ensure that every child is well served, utilizing state assessments and leveraging accountability systems is a vital piece of effective school leadership. Public Agendas 2003 survey of administrators asserts that 63 percent of superintendents report that raising student achievement is the biggest part of a principals evaluation and that 47 percent have moved a successful principal to a low-performing school to help it improve (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 23). However, while 73 percent of todays superintendents also think holding principals accountable for student learning is a good idea and just 18 percent that its a bad idea, 45 percent of principals term the idea a bad one and just 41 percent a good one (Farkas et al., 2003, p. 38). Given that current principals express this kind of evident discomfort with accountability, how much attention are programs devoting to accountability in training principal candidates?
In practice, just 50 of 381, or about 13 percent, of managing for results course weeks linked school management to standards-based accountability systems, state assessments, or the new demands of No Child Left Behind. This means that only about 2 percent of all course weeks addressed accountability as it relates to school management. Accountability was mentioned fewer than five times in other contexts, such as those relating to school law or policy, but these instances only accounted for a fraction of the attention to the topic.
Table 3: Managing for Results with Accountability
Of course, as Theodore Creighton (2001) and others have noted, one precondition for using accountability as an effective management tool is that principals be equipped to make use of data, research, and the associated technology. How much attention are preparation programs devoting to these topics? Table 4 shows that the 381 course weeks devoted to managing for results involved data, technology, or research about 29 percent of the time. These course weeks addressed topics like Data-driven decision-making . . . the process of data collection and analysis at the district level (Syllabus 66, Week 7) and The bottom line: The principals impact on student achievement . . . [using] data analysis (Syllabus 88, Week 15). There was much variation in how individual programs covered these topics.
Table 4: Managing for Results with Data and Research
Combining the results from Tables 3 and 4 reveals an estimate of the total amount of time devoted to using accountability, data, research, or technology as management tools. The bottom line is that perhaps 67 percent of instruction addressed one of these topics as it relates to managing school improvement. Course weeks that discussed managing for results without referencing accountability, data, or research often expressed a more spiritual approach to school improvement. One such course week asked, How do we engage the moral and aesthetic imagination in the educational change process? (Syllabus 57, Week 1).
Another way to characterize the attention paid to data and research is to ask what percentage of all course weeks included a description, reading, or assignment that referenced data or research. Overall, 263 out of 2,424, or 11 percent, of weeks referenced statistics, data, or empirical research in some context. In short, these results seem to reveal that issues of data and research receive very limited attention in principal-preparation programs.
A critical role for any leader is hiring, evaluating, developing, and firing personnel. This category included course weeks addressing the hiring process (recruitment, selection, interviewing), employee motivation, teacher evaluation, and conflict management. About 15 percent of course weeks were devoted to personnel management.
While principals have always been limited in their ability to hire, remove, or reward personneldue to state statutes, district procedures, staffing routines, collective bargaining provisions, and so onthey are now pressed both by expectations and by statute to play an increasingly aggressive role in ensuring teacher quality. In fact Education Week (Leading for Learning, 2004) reports that 80 percent of principals believe they have a great deal of influence over evaluating teachers and that 74 percent say the same about hiring new personnel (p. S7).
In light of these developments, the question arises: How much are training programs doing to prepare principals for the challenges of personnel management? The importance of the issue is highlighted by a 1999 study of 54 U.S. companies which concluded that the cost of the average managerial mis-hire was 24 times the failed employees starting salary (Smart, 1999). Table 5 illustrates that about 11 percent of the managing personnel course weeks addressed the various facets of the hiring process: recruitment, selection, interviewing, and placement. Coverage of the hiring process varied from program to program, with some paying no attention to recruitment, selection, or placement. In all, 21 of 31 programs, or 68 percent, covered the hiring process only once or not at all in all syllabi coded.
Table 5: Time Devoted to Recruitment and Hiring
While hiring good faculty is one challenge that principals face, a second critical task is evaluating personnel. How much time do various programs devote to helping principals learn to evaluate teachers? Table 6 shows that about 24 percent of the 360 course weeks that addressed managing personnel were devoted to teacher evaluation.
Table 6: Time Devoted to Evaluating Teachers
Table 6 suggests that a considerable percentage of personnel management is devoted to faculty evaluation. However, the obvious question that emerges is the degree to which principals are being equipped to make important decisions about tenure, compensation, and professional development based on those judgments.
Table 7 examines the focus of the 85 course weeks devoted to teacher evaluation. Weeks addressing teacher evaluation that encompassed the more agreeable, supportive elements of the process like observation, clinical supervision, coaching, or mentoring were coded supportive evaluation. Meanwhile, weeks devoted to less genial topics, like linking evaluation to student performance, evaluating teachers using non-observational data, rewarding excellence, or remediating or dismissing low-performing faculty were coded tough-minded evaluation.
Table 7: Teacher Evaluation: Tough-Minded vs. Supportive
Table 7 shows that tough-minded evaluation received much less attention than did supportive evaluation. Tough-minded evaluation accounted for just 22 of 85 (26 percent) course weeks devoted to evaluation. This means that less than 1 percent of all instruction in the syllabi examined focused on aggressive efforts to identify, enhance, and reward teacher quality. Michael Fullan, one of the most frequently assigned authors in the syllabi, captured a common theme in the discussions of evaluation when he wrote, Appraisal schemes that implicate 100 percent of the staff in order to detect a small percentage of incompetents are a gross waste of time . . . Any appraisal schemes should be decidedly focused on growth and development (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996, p. 1011). In fact, course weeks routinely focused on procedural questions (e.g., Cycles of supervision: Whats due when, Syllabus 59, Week 7) or finding ways to support problematic staff (e.g., Supervising the marginal teacher Syllabus 135, Week 7; Working with difficult people, Syllabus 188, Week 10).
To further examine this finding, we looked at how often managing personnel course weeks mentioned tough-minded notions like termination, dismissal, firing, teacher compensation, or salary. Table 8 shows that just 3 percent of the personnel management course weeks made mention of teacher dismissal and less than 3 percent made mention of teacher compensation. In all, just 21 of 360 course weeks devoted to managing personnel addressed employee compensation or terminationtwo subjects that typically receive extensive attention when personnel management is addressed in other venues. Many programs did not discuss termination or compensation at all: 20 of 31 programs never mentioned termination, and 23 of 31 failed to mention compensation. None of the 31 programs mentioned either topic more than once.
Table 8: Dealing with Termination/Dismissal and Compensation
This mindset contrasts sharply with the conventional wisdom in public- and private-sector management regarding the benefits of the selective use of evaluation, compensation, and termination for quality control. As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch (2001)identified in a 2003 survey as one of the 50 most important living management thinkershas explained: Making these judgments is not easy, and they are not always precise . . . but . . .This is how great organizations are built. Year after year, differentiation raises the bar higher and higher and increases the overall caliber of the organization (p. 158). Of course, the Welch model is not how schools currently operate, leaving open the question as to whether principals ought to be introduced to such thinking.
Overall, the preparation programs in the sample approach personnel management with little attention to teaching new principals to hire, evaluate, reward, or terminate employees. In fact, some syllabi evince a peculiar take on these issues, as in the case of the course week that archly made reference to, The symbolism of attempting to fire an incompetent teacher (Syllabus 41, Week 8).
While reformers discuss how to help principals focus more on improving school performance, the data suggest that principals continue to spend most of their work day on administrative issues and the nuts and bolts of running a school. For instance, a 2004 survey by Education Week revealed that 86 percent of principals report spending time each day on ensuring the security of their school and 82 percent spend part of their day managing facilities and resources (Leading for Learning, 2004). Presumably due to this reality, technical knowledge was the most frequently addressed topic in the syllabi examined. It encompassed 30 percent of the total course weeksnearly twice the time devoted to any of the other six content areas.
The technical knowledge category included those course weeks which focused on topics like school law, school finance, facilities management, data training, research, technology, and related concerns like meeting coordination and food and transportation services. Data training and research were coded as technical knowledge when they were presented in the abstract rather than in a context linking them to schooling in those weeks where use of data and research were linked to topics like assessment or program evaluation, research and data were coded as managing for results and included in Table 4.
What topics do preparation programs focus upon when teaching technical knowledge? Table 9 shows that nearly three-quarters of the time devoted to technical knowledge was spent on education law and school finance. Of 718 course weeks devoted to technical knowledge, 324 (about 45%) focused on education law, and 196 (27%) on school finance. The remaining course weeks addressed research skills (10%), data management and utilization (7%), technology (5%), and facilities (4%). There was some variation across different kinds of programs. Elite programs devoted more than 85 percent of their attention to law and finance but just 5 percent to data, research skills, and technology. Meanwhile, both large and typical programs spent 2732 percent of their technical knowledge instruction on data, technology, and research skills and 6268 percent of their time on finance and law.
Table 9: The Coverage of Technical Leadership Skills
The titles of the technical knowledge course weeks raise some questions about the body of skills regarded as essential to school operations. Some courses on law, finance, facilities, and so on seem to have straightforward value, as with the weeks titled, Preparation and interpretation of financial statements [including] managing the accounting and control function (Syllabus 19, Week 4) or Revisit[ing] basic data distributions [including] percentiles, inter-quartile ranges, descriptive statistics (Syllabus 78, Week 2). On the other hand, some syllabi appear less focused on useful expertise, particularly those with lessons on Financial equity: Should all students have a constitutional right to an equal education? Should this require an equal or equitable allocation of funds to all schools? (Syllabus 20, Week 9) or Topics of silent, political, passive speech . . . valuing student speech, supporting versus tolerating speech . . . and civic and civil development of students (Syllabus 51, Week 4). On the whole, however, a plain reading of the syllabi reveals that more than 85 percent of technical knowledge course weeks focused on operational and applied tasks.
Because topics like law, facilities, finance, and technology cover facts and formulas that principals are thought to need, we examined the extent to which courses teaching technical knowledge use final assessments to ensure mastery. We found that about 58 percent of 64 technical knowledge courses required students to take a final exam. Interestingly, while two-thirds of large and typical program courses in technical knowledge required exams, just 39 percent of the 23 elite courses examined did.
We also considered how much instruction was devoted to external leadership responsibilities such as working with constituencies like parents and community organizations, negotiating local politics, understanding collective bargaining agreements, and developing small business skills like marketing and public relations. In the aggregate, external leadership was addressed in about 8 percent of course weeks.
Table 10: Allocation of Time Within External Leadership
Within external leadership, Table 10 shows how much attention was devoted to specific topics of interest. The most attention was devoted to understanding politics and policy (30 percent of course weeks) and to community relations (23 percent). Small business skills and collective bargaining received a great deal of attention in large programs, accounting for almost half of their external leadership course weeks, but only a fraction of that in elite or typical programs. Parental relations and dealing with the school board received minimal attention across the board, together accounting for only about 7 percent of external leadership course weeks.
Norms and values
Education school critics assert that courses are often characterized by an ideological tilt that influences content (Steiner & Rozen, 2004). Does the evidence suggest such a bias in the case of principal-preparation courses? The data in Table 2 suggests that only about 12 percent of course weeks explicitly focus on promoting particular norms or values. In the instruction that does address norms and values, is there evidence to support the claim that instructors are failing to expose students to diverse points of view?
Obviously, gauging the ideological content inevitably requires the researcher to make judgment calls.7 All we can do here is assuage concerns by explaining the coding rules and providing examples to show how the coding metric was applied. Coded as progressive were course weeks that advocated concepts like social justice and multiculturalism, focused on inequality and race-based discrimination, emphasized notions of silenced voices and child-centered instruction, or were critical of testing and choice-based reform. Those weeks that critiqued notions of social justice and multiculturalism, critiqued a focus on inequality or discrimination as engaging in victimhood, advocated phonics and back-to-basics instruction, or framed discussions of testing or choice-based reform in positive terms were coded as conservative. Those weeks that did not display clear normative direction or that included a variety of normative views were coded neutral.
For examples of how this metric was applied, some of the course weeks that were coded as progressive included:
The role of the curriculum in legitimating social inequality (Syllabus 8, Week 10)
What role(s) do race and social class play in school reform? Is social Darwinism a useful reform concept? (Syllabus 35, Week 9)
Other silenced voices? (females, gay, impaired, over/underweight, bullied, biracial, religion, homeless, transient, etc.). Sexism and gender roles? Equity? Heterosexism and gay issues? (Syllabus 40, Week 11)8
Course weeks that were coded as balanced/neutral/ or indeterminate included:
Are unions good or bad for public education? What does the evidence say? (Syllabus 22, Week 2)
Educational productivity, assessing educational productivity, does money matter? Improving productivity . . . class size, vouchers, charter schools (Syllabus 33, Weeks 8 & 9)
What should schools teach? Phonics vs. whole language; multicultural education/teaching for diversity (Syllabus 161, Week 3).
The single course week coded conservative was titled The state and local politics of education reform (Syllabus 23, Week 12). It was coded as such because the weeks primary reading was authored by a well-known scholar regarded as conservative.
Table 11 shows the distribution of normative perspectives during the norms and values course weeks.
Table 11: Distribution of Normative Perspectives
Table 11 suggests that there is a distinct progressive tilt in those weeks that address norms and values. Overall 65 percent of the norms and values weeks were coded as progressive, 35 percent as balanced, neutral, or indeterminate, and less than 1 percent as conservative. Contrary to earlier suggestions that elite programs were atypically biased, the progressive tendency was evident at all three kinds of programs. It was most marked at elite and large programs, but even at typical programs, the majority of course weeks were progressive and none were conservative. Interestingly, many of the issues of political correctness traditionally attacked by education school critics were not much in evidence. For instance, the words diversity and diverse and multiculturalism and multicultural appeared in only 3 percent of all course weeks.
In the end, however, the imbalance of ideological perspectives does raise cautionary flags about instructors interest in entertaining competing schools of thought on leadership. For instance, courses titled Leadership, diversity, and social justice (Syllabus 174) or weeks labeled Suturing together a conservative public agenda: markets, religion, standards, and inequality (Syllabus 8, Week 9) raise doubts about whether the aim is to educate or to promote a particular point of view. Still, it is important to note that these principal-preparation programs only devote slightly more than 10 percent of instructional time to norms and values.
Most frequently read authors
One way to delve deeper into the content of instruction is to examine which authors are included on course reading lists in principal preparation programs. Answering these questions required a way to systematically assess assigned readings. Only required readings were tallied; recommended readings, supplementary readings, and suggested readings were excluded. Authorship was coded as follows: A reading was attributed to an individual if they were first or second author. In cases where there were more than two authors, if the scholar in question was not first or second author, the reading was not attributed to that author. Edited volumes themselves are not attributed, although chapters assigned within edited collectionsincluding introductions or conclusions authored by the editorare attributed to the author and tallied. The most commonly assigned authors are listed in Table 12.
Table 12: Most Commonly Assigned Authors
N: 1,851 readings
The most commonly assigned authors were Terence Deal (University of Southern California) and Allan Odden (University of Wisconsin). Deal is a prolific scholar of school leadership; Odden a scholar of education finance, state funding systems, and related issues. Other commonly assigned authors were Kent Peterson (University of Wisconsin); Michael Fullan (University of Toronto), Lee Bolman (University of Missouri-Kansas City), Thomas Sergiovanni (Trinity University, TX), Richard Elmore (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University), and Deborah Meier (founder of Central Park East school). These authors tend to focus on the unique challenges of school leadership. Sergiovanni (1996), for instance, argues that preparation for school leadership is unlike that for other leadership roles, declaring that corporate models of leadership cannot work in education and that, We [must] accept the reality that leadership for the schoolhouse should be different, and . . . we [need to] begin to invent our own practice (p. xiv).
It is worth noting that several of these thinkersparticularly Darling-Hammond, Meier, Sergiovanni, and Fullanare unapologetic skeptics of test-based accountability systems, standardized assessments, pay-for-performance, competitive pressure, and other key elements of the new educational environment.9 While some of the authors are more balanced in their stance on such measures, nowhere on this list are there identifiable proponents of test-based accountability, expedited termination of poor teachers, educational competition, or related measures that are changing the managerial context.
To determine whether this impression may be an artifact of the list of most commonly read authors, Table 13 lists a number of influential education thinkers and how often their writings were assigned. While specialists in educational administration were frequently assigned, largely absent were influential scholars of education governance and productivity like Paul Hill, Larry Cuban, William Boyd, Michael Kirst, and Jim Guthrie.
Table 13: The Representation of 10 Key Education Governance/Productivity Thinkers
N: 1,851 readings
Table 14 addresses the question of how frequently leading management thinkers were read in the courses studied. A 2003 survey of business leaders, business school professors, and MBA students by Bloomsbury Publishing and Suntop Media produced a list of the 50 most important living management thinkers (Thinkers 50, 2003). Of the individuals identified by the Thinkers 50 rankings, Table 13 shows that only nine were assigned at all, and they were assigned a combined total of just 29 times in all of the courses studied.
Table 14: Frequency of Thinkers 50 Management Theorists
N: 1,851 readings
In other words, of the 1,851 readings contained in the sample, a total of just 1.6 percent were authored by one of the 50 thinkers deemed most influential by management students, teachers, and practitioners. Influential thinkers including Michael Porter, Jim Collins, Clay Christensen, and Tom Peterssome of whom are widely cited in education circles and asked to address national educational conferenceswere wholly absent from every syllabus in the sample. The omission of these scholars, along with the inattention to serious education management thinkers, raises questions about whether principals are adequately steeped in important thinking and research on management and productivity.
For instance, when addressing school culture and climate, the most commonly assigned readings tend to focus almost exclusively on the importance of creating warm, supportive, and nurturing school environments. One of the most commonly assigned texts on school culture declares, The social climate and culture of a school influence the emotional and psychological orientation of its staff. . . . This is especially the case in schools that are optimistic, socially caring and supportive, and energetic ( Peterson & Deal, 1999, p. 8). Offering a rather different take, Jim Collins, one of the Thinkers 50 who appears nowhere among the assigned readings, has argued that, Visionary companies are not exactly comfortable places. . . visionary companies thrive on discontent. They understand that contentment leads to complacency, which inevitably leads to decline (Collins & Porras, 1997, p. 18687). The point is that both sets of authors offer valuable, even crucial, insights, but that one school of thought appears to be largely absent from the reading lists.
While educational leadership lies at the intersection of two vibrant and powerful bodies of learning and thoughteducation and leadership/managementinstruction in the programs examined draws narrowly from a pool of educational administration specialists. This is particularly problematic because growth and advancement come not merely from new inventions or unearthing new resources but from entrepreneurial leaders and decision-makers configuring personnel, practices, operations, and existing resources in new and more effective ways. Of course, educational leaders will be far better equipped to do so if they are familiar with a broad body of knowledge on learning, technology, management, and productivity.
This study presents a comprehensive assessment of what aspiring principals are taught in a national sample of 31 preparation programs and reveals considerable consistency across a variety of institutions. Our research raises questions about whether preparation is well matched to the contemporary world of schooling and whether graduates of principal-preparation programs are being equipped for the challenges and opportunities posed by an era of accountability. As three professors of educational leadership have observed, Leadership during this Age of Accountability has become more stressful, more political, more complex, and more time-consuming but that school leaders have also been given unprecedented clarity of mission and leverage to bring teachers into line (Duke, Grogan, & Tucker, 2003, p. 212). The recent study by Arthur Levine (2005), President of Teachers College at Columbia, posed thoughtful structural remedies intended to address these needs. Among Levines suggestions were to create an education management degree like the MBA, to eliminate the Ed.D, and to stop districts from offering pay raises for course credit. Such structural changes are certainly deserving of careful scrutiny, but Levines study also raises a more fundamental question as to whether the content of preparation courses may also need to be rethought.
Ultimately, the question of instructional content is pivotal; yet we find that principals currently receive limited training in the use of data, research, technology, the hiring or termination of personnel, or evaluating personnel in a systematic way. The reading lists suggest that aspiring principals receive limited exposure to important management scholarship or sophisticated inquiry on educational productivity and governance. The vital question is whether the lack of attention to certain schools of thought regarding management may leave aspiring principals prepared for the traditional world of educational leadership but not for the challenges they will face in the 21st century. Principal-preparation programs that pay little attention to data, productivity, accountability, or working with parents may leave their graduates unprepared for new responsibilities. This system risks graduating new principals unprepared to exercise new freedoms or responsibilitiesresulting in micromanagement, poor decisions, or the misuse of accountability instruments. Meaningful reform of principal-preparation programs must ensure that the content of these programs it is well suited for the challenges confronting principals in a new era of schooling. While these data cannot offer any definitive guidance with regard to these important questions, the queries are critical ones that demand more careful exploration.
This study represents an initial cut at understanding how aspiring principals are being prepared. Our work is intended as a provocative first looknot as the final word. Our hope is that scholars of educational administration and school leadership will refine, extend, and challenge our inquiry and analysis. In light of the numerous efforts to rethink principal preparation currently under way across the country, we hope that researchers will document and monitor the changes wrought by ongoing efforts to reform preparation. In particular, given the exploratory nature of this study, it will be appropriate for future research employing more comprehensive samples to assess the relative magnitude of the differences we find across program categories and within areas of instruction.
An important question raised by syllabi studies such as this is the degree to which syllabi actually reflect what takes place inside classrooms. While syllabi can be imperfect indicators of classroom instruction, whether they can serve as valuable proxies for what concepts are being taught is an open question. We hope that future inquiries will help to make clear how closely principal-preparation courses resemble the syllabi on which they are based. More importantly, such research could help shed light on what gets taught in principal-preparation courses. For instance, it would be most interesting to learn what instructional approaches are used, what topics are discussed, what kind of work is assigned, and how is performance assessed. Future research might also explore the distinction between what principals, assistant principals, and specialists need to know and how those differences are recognized or addressed in the course of preparation.
Of course, the content of instruction is only one component of more fully understanding the nature of principal preparation; it will also be equally useful for scholars to consider internships, program structure, and mentoring. Our hope is that scholarship on preparation will examine both program structure and content.
Currently, a number of preparation programs are considering redesign. This means that these findings may become dated as new training programs are launched in the years ahead. It also means that these findings could be of immediate value in helping principal-preparation providers to revisit their assumptions as they work to rethink their programs. That said, the Southern Regional Education Board, whose Leadership Initiative is driving preparation and certification reform in its 16 member states, has cautioned: Redesigning leadership-preparation programs does not mean simply rearranging old coursesas staff at some universities and leadership academies are inclined to do. True redesign requires a new curriculum framework and new courses aimed at producing principals who can lead schools to excellence (SREB, 2003, p. 7). Whether preparation programs are intent on answering that challenge remains to be seen, but the flurry of redesign efforts is a development worth watching in the years ahead.
1 Jamentz (2002) highlights this set of skills and asserts that principals must be actively engaged in constructing standards-based curricula, aligned assessments, and demonstrating and coaching effective teaching and learning practices.
2 While scholars have examined the link between the values and beliefs of administrators and effective schooling (Krug, Ahadi, & Scott, 1991), looked at clusters of leadership behavior and their relationship to school performance (Heck, Larson, & Marcoulides, 1990), and reviewed previous research to determine the importance of the principals role in effective schooling (Hallinger & Heck, 1998), this work is regarded as more suggestive than conclusive.
3 Other studies analyzed the effect of extra training in interpersonal management on candidates interpersonal skills like physical attending, empathy, respect, and concreteness (Smith, Montello, & White, 1992, p. 243) and surveyed administrators to identify skills that they report principals need (Schmeider, McGrevin, & Townley, 1994; Daresh, Gantner, Dunlap, & Hvizdak, 2000).
4 It is worth noting that principal-preparation programs do not solely serve aspiring principals. The classes in these programs also enroll assistant principal candidates, specialists (like special education administrators or school finance officials), and teachers seeking graduate credit. However, this fact should not confuse our line of inquiry. Since we sampled syllabi from core courses in each institutions principal-preparation track, the fact that these courses may enroll others does not alter the fact that they are the classes that future principals complete during their graduate preparation.
5 Because principal candidates will often take classes at two or more different institutions over the course of obtaining their credential, schools often do not keep records of the number of principals certified each year and the IPEDS database does not keep track of the number of certificates that are awarded by individual schools.
6 Three of the 210 syllabi included in the final sample did not have specific topics listed but did include assigned readings. Because the topic of the session could be gleaned from the readings, these syllabi were included.
7 It is, of course, theoretically possible for faculty to assign readings of one ideological perspective and then use instructional time to ensure balanced consideration. This analysis, however, proceeds on the premise that class instruction and course readings are important determinants of what students learn. We presume that courses in which students are exposed to a variety of perspectives are more likely to foster open inquiry and instruction.
8 Other examples include, Transforming urban education with a social justice agenda: The role of the Brown decision in the fight for social justice in urban communities (Syllabus 92: Week 2); Fomenting social change (Syllabus 128: Week 6); and Tools for change: Social reconstructionist schooling (Syllabus 174: Week 4).
9 For instance, Linda Darling-Hammond and Deborah Meier are among the contributors to a recent volume that assails No Child Left Behind-style accountability entitled Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools (3Meier & Wood, 2004).
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