Hood and Hunt redefine principal preparation
Lisa Hood and Erika Hunt, senior policy analysts and researchers for the Center for the Study of Education Policy (CSEP), are redefining leadership development in P–20 education. With support from The Wallace Foundation and the McCormick Foundation, they have been able to work with state boards of education staff, policymakers, and education leaders to pass legislation to ensure that school leaders are able to meet the educational demands of the 21st century.
The problem that Hunt and Hood are addressing began in 1996 when a tiered teacher certification structure was implemented that would increase salaries for teachers who obtained a master’s degree. While the structure was successful in encouraging teachers to pursue advanced education, it also greatly increased the number of educators obtaining master’s degrees in principal certifications, often referred to as a general administration endorsement (Type 75).
Compounding the issue was that the Type 75 degree programs were not adequately preparing these students to become principals. The Type 75 was required for any position that was responsible for evaluating teachers and staff. This included department chairs, athletic directors, special education directors, and other administrative roles. The general focus of these programs kept faculty from focusing specifically on principal preparation in the curriculum.
According to Hunt and Hood, Illinois currently has approximately 43,000 educators with the general administrative endorsement (Type 75). Yet there are less than 500 principal vacancies in Illinois each year. Feeling that they could meet the current demand for principals and assistant principals, Hunt and Hood led a statewide effort targeted at redesigning principal preparation programs.
“You have all of these changes going on in education with Common Core and the PARCC assessments,” Hood said. “The principal is the one who provides the vision and the support to the teachers as they are going through all of these initiatives. There has been a paradigm shift with principals. Their role used to be budgets, scheduling, and many more of the management functions. But now we need to see principals providing instructional leadership.”
Through surveys, studies, and meetings with more than 1,000 people from the Governor’s Office, P–20 Council, teachers, administrators, parents, advocacy groups for early childhood, special education, English learners, unions, business leaders, and universities, Hood and Hunt staffed three statewide task forces that identified several recommendations for improving principal and leader preparation, which prompted the passage of Illinois Public Act 96-0903 in 2010. The passage of the legislation marked an overhaul to leadership preparation in Illinois. A report written by the CSEP, “Redesigning Principal Preparation and Development for the Next Generation: Lessons From Illinois,” detailed key elements of the legislation:
- A targeted principal endorsement instead of a general administrative certificate
- Partnerships with school districts in preparation program design and delivery
- Selective admissions criteria
- P–12 licensure (adding pre-kindergarten to the leadership training)
- A performance-based internship
- Collaborative support for candidates from both faculty and mentor principals
A large part of the principal preparation program relies on redefining the role of the district in the degree programs.
“The model we proposed in the legislation is the district as a consumer,” Hunt said. “Each of the preparation programs has to have a memorandum of understanding with at least one district. It sets up how every step of the way they are going to have that district’s input into the design, recruitment, selection, assessment, and placement of candidates.”
The new principal endorsement applies only to principals and assistant principals and does not require other administrative positions to have this certification. Instead, staff (other than principals and assistant principals) who have the responsibility for evaluating teachers need only to take and pass an Illinois required teacher evaluation training program called Growth Through Learning. The state grandfathered in the 43,000 Type 75 holders so that their certification still qualifies them to serve as a principal or assistant principal.
Although the legislation is recognized nationally, Hunt and Hood feel like work is just beginning. Funds provided by The Wallace Foundation, McCormick Foundation, and U.S. Department of Education will see the duo further examining policy, ensuring existing policy addresses the original issues, and proposing methods for further improvements now that the legislative changes are implemented by universities and districts.
“If you’re going to do a major policy initiative you need to commit 10 years at least,” Hunt said. “Just passing the legislation is the first step. You need to support the implementation, because initiatives can get diffused in implementation.”
Hunt and Hood are already examining how the principal preparation model can be used in readying superintendents for leadership roles and are working on an initiative with the Governor’s P–20 Council on teacher leadership to prepare teachers who can provide support to principals.
“As long as there is support for this, it is something we can never back away from,” Hunt said. “There will always be a need as education continues to evolve. Legislation is not a magic silver bullet. It is something you need to continually assess. To us, this work is not a grant. It’s a movement to improve our schools by preparing effective principals for all of our schools.”