A report released today from the Illinois Education Research Council (IERC) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), assesses the progress of sweeping legislation to redesign the way school principals in Illinois are prepared, with the goal of improving schools statewide through higher quality leadership. The report, titled Navigating the Shift to Intensive Principal Preparation in Illinois: An In-depth Look at Stakeholder Perspectives, summarizes findings from a two-year study assessing the progress of these ambitious reforms and describing 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 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.
Nevertheless, questions remain about whether the supply of principals prepared in the new programs will be sufficient to meet statewide demand for school leaders.
The study notes that Illinois continues to be a leader in the nationwide effort to improve principal preparation, and concludes that continued efforts are needed to ensure that the redesigned programs fulfill their promise.
Other key findings include:
• The new policy strengthened partnerships between universities and school districts to help ensure that principal preparation reflects the needs of local schools
• Internships focused on the mastery of leadership competencies rather than hours accumulated observing leadership have improved the depth, clarity and practicality of 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
• 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