At a time when educational leadership is a primary focus of education reform, schools of education have come under considerable scrutiny. Some observers have expressed serious reservations about whether these institutions are capable of reengineering their leadership leadership preparation programs to effectively educate aspiring principals and superintendents to lead high-performing schools. (1)
In recent years, however, many graduate schools of education across the country have revamped their programs in an effort to set a course for changing the field of leadership education. The innovations are rooted in five areas: 1) a reinterpretation of leadership as pivotal for improving teaching and learning; 2) new insights into how program content, pedagogy, and field-based learning experiences can be designed to be more powerful means of preparing leaders; 3) the redesign of the doctorate as an intensive midcareer professional development activity; 4) the use of partnerships for richer, more extensive program design opportunities; and 5) a commitment to continuous improvement. Unfortunately, such innovations have gone largely unnoticed, particularly outside the field's professional circles. In this article I explore these areas of innovation and consider how well they are likely to meet the current need for high-performing leaders for our schools.
SETTING THE SCENE
University programs are the primary means of preparing principals and superintendents. An estimated 450 to 500 programs in schools and colleges of education offer leadership preparation culminating in master's (472 institutions), specialist (162 institutions), and doctoral (199 institutions) degrees. (2) These programs represent a significant resource for higher education, though they are somewhat circumscribed by state policy. Most states stipulate specific degrees, majors, course content, internships, and other preparatory experiences for certifying district and building leaders, and these certification requirements, in turn, influence the content and scope of graduate programs. (3)
The impetus for reforming leadership preparation programs comes from many sources, both within and outside the field. Sweeping accountability provisions designed to promote high academic achievement for all children, research on how leadership practices influence student learning, and perceived leadership shortages have conspired to create a demand for more and better qualified leaders and have reframed the purposes of leadership preparation. (4) National leadership standards, such as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards, now frame states' expectations for high-quality leadership and are used by 40 states as a platform for preparation programs and licensure.
The ISLLC standards have been integrated into the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation requirements. NCATE has authorized the Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC), an affiliation of four administrator groups, to review preparation programs for educational leaders for national recognition, using standards developed by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. By 2005, one-third of all institutions nationally had gained ELCC recognition for their leadership preparation programs based on the new standards.
Despite this recognized progress, the U.S. Department of Education has characterized conventional programs as lacking vision, purpose, and coherence. (5) Students self-enroll in these programs without consideration of leadership experience and then progress through discrete courses without connection to actual practice or local schools. Some critics doubt that schools of education can overcome strong institutional forces that work to subvert change, because they lack the capacity and rewards structure for significant reform and because keeping program costs low makes them …