Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Principal and Superintendent Advice Improving Educational Leadership Programs: Will It Improve or Hinder Increased Student Achievement?

Thomas A. Kersten
Professor Emeritus
Roosevelt University
Chicago/Schaumburg, Illinois

            One of the greatest challenges principals and superintendents face is increasing student achievement. Today, educational stakeholders demand that school leaders demonstrate the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to improve teaching and learning. No longer is it sufficient for administrators to merely talk a good game. School leaders must show results.

            At the same time, educational administration professors are themselves under increased scrutiny regarding the effectiveness of their principal and superintendent preparation programs. Even some of our nation's most well known educational leaders have questioned the effectiveness of administrative preparation programs in preparing administrators to lead school improvement and increase student achievement (Darling-Hammond, et. al., 2007; Levine, 2005). These criticisms, though, raise an important question that both school administrators and professors of educational administration cannot ignore. Are our educational leadership programs truly providing school leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to improve schools and increase student achievement?   

            An answer to this question may be partially embedded in recent studies of principals' and superintendents' perceptions of the efficacy of educational leadership preparation programs. When asked how they would improve educational leadership programs, a substantial number of principals and superintendents were quick to offer the advice. They recommended that professors focus more pragmatic concerns and real school experiences, especially related to improving student performance. They suggested that professors place less emphasis on theory, which is not clearly linked to helping administrators improve their schools. In addition, they encouraged professors to spend more time in schools to develop a deeper understanding of how successful principals and superintendents make a difference. They cautioned them to resist the temptation to isolate themselves from the day-to-day realities of school leadership by becoming university-bound (Hunt, Watkins, Kersten & Tripses, 2011; Kersten, Trybus & White, 2010).

            This advice raises important issues that educational administration professors should consider if they truly want to partner with school administrators and contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning. Professors must ask themselves if they have the knowledge necessary to advise administrators on how to improve student achievement. If not, they must become achievement experts not only at the theoretical but also implementation level. If they do not, administrators will choose to look elsewhere for this expertise. Second, professors must focus on developing a true understanding of what educational leadership means at the building and district levels, especially if they have never administered schools or have not done so recently. This will require them to place a priority on connecting with administrators and teachers onsite rather than merely as part of research studies or course instruction. Once they heed this advice, educational leadership professors will open the doors to true partnerships with school administrators. They will then be in a position to work collaboratively to improve our nation's schools and increase student achievement.


Darling-Hammond, L., LaPoint, M., Meyerson, D., Orr., M, & Cohen, C. (2007). Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute. Available from

Hunt, J., Watkins, S., Kersten, T., & Tripses, J. (2011). Restructuring (retooling) superintendent leadership programs to enhance district leadership. Educational Leadership Review Special Issue: Portland Conference, 12(3), 43-48.

Kersten, T., Trybus, M., & White, D. (2010). Administrative internships: Considering principals’ voice from the field. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation. 5(1). Retrieved February 8, 2010 from

Levine, A. (2005). Educating school leaders. Washington, DC: The Education Schools Project.

White, D. L., & Kersten., T. A. (2010). Improving administrative internship programs:Recommendations from secondary school principals. School Leadership Review, 6(1), 133-126.