Exploratory comparative case studies of two principal preparation programs
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Research shows that the role of the school principal is a significant factor in school improvement; however, principal preparation programs have been found wanting when it comes to preparing individuals for the hectic pace and demanding nature of school administration and leadership (Hallinger & Heck, 1996; Tirozzi, 2001). Current research in principal preparation generates many questions about the value of such programs, alleging that preparation programs do not prepare principals for the challenges they must face in K-12 schools (Orr & Osterman, 2002). The purpose of this mixed method case study was to describe and compare two principal preparation programs and explore two types of program outcomes: (1) graduates’ school leadership job attainment and (2) graduates’ perceptions of their preparation and its impact on their leadership preparedness. Two different types of preparation programs were selected; one program was innovative while the other was traditional. The differentiating features present in the innovative program but absent in the traditional program were: district partnerships, recruitment and selection strategies, a cohort component, and a paid, full-time, year-long internship. Data included twenty interviews, archival data, program documents, and existing data files. Findings are presented in two case studies in both narrative and tabular form. The case studies were cross-analyzed to determine similarities and differences in program content, process, and outcome. Analysis revealed that graduates of the innovative program were overall more satisfied with their preparation than graduates of the traditional program. In fact, graduates of the innovative program held more favorable opinions of program quality, considered their overall experience to be more positive, and perceived a higher degree of leadership preparedness. Most notably, participants in the innovative program obtained positions as principals at a higher rate than graduates of the traditional program. Particularly in the cases of female and minority participants, data indicated that the innovative program provided a higher-quality program that led to more positive outcomes in terms of leadership job attainment.