Improving the Professional Pipeline for Educational Leadership

July 6, 2012 — Student success is the primary goal of current policy efforts around effective teaching. But what about the impact of effective leadership in schools on student learning?

A recently released white paper from the University Council for Education Administration and the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education offers new insight into creating a pipeline of effective leaders for pre-K-12 schools.

"Research has documented that strong leadership is essential to student success, and strong leadership is dependent upon quality leadership preparation," said Michelle Young, Curry professor and director of the University Council for Education Administration. "We cannot address student success in classrooms without looking at the effectiveness of principals, superintendents and other leaders in education."

A new report released by the council, "The Professional Pipeline for Educational Leadership," addresses strategies for creating a robust source of effective leadership in pre-K-12 education. The report was developed to inform the work of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.

Young co-authored the report with Curry colleague Pamela Tucker and research assistant Dallas Hambrick Hitt. The paper reviews research on the relationship between key features of the leadership pipeline and effective leadership practice.
It identifies key issues and challenges associated with the current state of the leadership pipeline. According to the report, one challenge is the lack of an overarching plan for recruitment, selection, preparation, placement and professional development. Currently, many school districts cast a wide net in an effort to hire leaders. Instead, developing a comprehensive pipeline plan that is based on the needs of area schools allows districts to be proactive in attracting and developing effective leaders.

The report also emphasizes characteristics that make leadership preparation programs effective, making note of specific program features, such as internships and candidate performance assessments.

"UCEA has worked with scholars and other stakeholders to develop a strong and growing understanding of how to prepare educational leaders to support school improvement and student achievement, and this report highlights the importance of such research-based features in developing leaders throughout their careers," Young said.

State and federal policymakers are increasingly focusing on the quality of leadership preparation and practice in pre-K-12 education, and they are creating policies that have significant implications for colleges and schools of education where these leaders are being prepared.

Among the strategies suggested in the paper are recommendations for supporting high-quality educational leadership preparation and ongoing program improvement. Specifically, the report recommends increasing the rigor of selection processes for students entering leadership preparation programs. In developing district-university partnerships within these programs, stakeholders can work together in selecting, preparing and developing leaders.

Once leaders enter the field, it is recommended that districts optimize candidate growth through a continual cycle of assessment and feedback.

"Emerging research indicates the critical importance of a comprehensive, aligned approach to both the preparation of school leaders and their selection and development once they enter the profession," Tucker said.  "When recruitment, selection, induction and development are addressed as a purposeful, intentional set of activities by leadership preparation programs and school systems, both are able to contribute more effectively to the nation\\'s need for more dynamic leadership capacity in education."

Based at the Curry School of Education and founded in 1954, the University Council for Educational Administration is a consortium of higher education institutions committed to advancing the preparation and practice of educational leaders for the benefit of schools and children. UCEA promotes the application of research to practice in higher education and pre-K-12 settings.
For information, visit the UCEA website, call 434-243-1041, or email