Connecting Student Realities and Ideal Models: Changing the University of South Florida's Educational Leadership Program

Article excerpt

Connecting Student Realities and Ideal Models: Changing the University of South Florida's Educational Leadership Program

For nearly two decades, criticism of traditional educational leadership programs has dominated the literature in the field (see for example Levine, 2005; Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2003). Nearly every program aspect has been described in mostly negative terms. Before this cloud of criticism, many educational leadership programs, preparing our nation's school principals, had already begun the business of changing. In other universities, programs simply vanished when no one stepped forth to champion the necessary reform. The critique of educational leadership programs assisted change agents by supporting the case they had been advocating. However, these criticisms ignore the advances of preparation programs in aligning content with national standards, providing meaningful practical experiences, and researching practice to advance the educational leadership knowledge base (Jackson & Kelley, 2002).

Educational leadership programs have evolved and as in any change process, involving people and institutions, friction slows and complicates the process. The path is often foggy and as Duffy (2004) noted, the path of change is never straight. Many transition points along the path are necessary and usually there are more than anticipated from the beginning. Through this friction and fog, the Masters program in educational leadership at the University of South Florida has morphed from a traditional ivory tower model of lone students randomly picking courses taught by faculty, with little or long ago real world experience, conveying their favorite topic. Program constructs have evolved to a more responsive, conceptual, collaborative model. Students are often part of cohorts. Faculty use real world examples and online school data for problem solving experiences. School districts participate with planning, candidate selection, practitioner sessions, and internship supervising. School personnel often serve as adjunct faculty.

The change process produces some dust. As it settles, conflicting visions of next steps and refinements are revealed. As our University of South Florida program emerged into a new model, directions for continual growth become apparent. Faculty dialogue around realities of the lives of full time educators/part time students prompted us to wonder if other programs share similar elements.

Using the results of a national survey of 25 educational leadership programs (Bruner, Greenlee, Hill, 2007) that focused on demographics of candidates, student mobility, graduates' pursuit of administrative positions, and student learning experiences, we identified student realities. Used for a previously published study, this survey instrument collected data from chairs of educational leadership programs identified in the 24th Edition of the Educational Administration (2005-2006), published by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA). Survey results and resultant USF faculty discussions identified four student reality challenges that informed and guided our program change. Student realities were paired with aspects of the ideal model of principal preparation and reflected in the following chart:

The gap between reality and ideal was obvious and common to many other educational leadership programs. Some changes at University of South Florida have reduced the range of the gap. With the ideal clearly identified, our program keeps adapting our delivery model and continues to make progress. Planning the next steps requires designing other models that benefit our students. The purpose of this paper is to examine program innovations that address the major challenges of educational leadership student realities.

Method

This study utilized educational leadership faculty from a large metropolitan university to define and frame student realities and ideal models of leadership preparation programs. …

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