Navigating the Shift to Intensive Principal Preparation in Illinois: An In-depth Look at Stakeholder Perspectives

July, 2016
Bradford R. White, Amber Stitziel Pareja, Holly Hart, Brenda K. Klostermann, Michelle Hanh Huynh, Mary Frazier-Meyers, and Janet K. Holt

In 2010, Illinois passed sweeping legislation to redesign the way the school principals are prepared, with the goal of improving schools statewide through higher quality leadership. This study, done in partnership with the Illinois Education Research Council, assesses the progress of these reforms and describes the changes that occurred as a result of the new policy. 

Illinois’ new principal preparation policy required universities across the state to shift from a general training model, geared toward multiple school administrative positions, to more targeted and selective principal-specific preparation beginning in the 2014-15 school year.  As a result, the study finds that preparation programs experienced substantial, but not unexpected, declines in enrollment. However, university faculty and school district representatives believe the revised requirements provide more rigorous and realistic preparation relative for the job. 

Policymakers and statewide stakeholders have viewed this shift as a transition from an emphasis on the quantity of principals prepared statewide to the quality of their preparation. Staff and principal candidates from the preparation programs, as well as school district personnel interviewed for the study, generally agreed that the new programs are likely to produce school leaders who are more capable of improving schools and raising student achievement.  

Additionally, the study finds the new policy strengthened partnerships between universities and school districts to help ensure that principal preparation reflects the needs of local schools.  Candidate internships focused on the mastery of leadership competencies rather than hours accumulated observing leadership have improved the depth, clarity, and practicality to the experience. Instructional leadership is a clear focus of both the internship and coursework, but there is some worry that important administrative and managerial skills have been de-emphasized.  Finally, the new programs have increased training for leading special student populations, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and early childhood students, but whether this is sufficient to prepare principals to lead across all contexts remains a matter of debate. 

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