[Editor's note: This is the second post in our latest blog series by John Chubb, "Building a Better Leader: Lessons from New Principal Leadership Development Programs." See here for the introductory post.]
Traditional principal preparation programs are notoriously non-selective. The new breed of program takes selectivity to the opposite extreme. Some have ratios of acceptances to inquiries or applications that rival competitive colleges—below 10 percent. For example, Building Excellent Schools (BES) receives upwards of 2,000 inquiries for between ten and twelve fellowships.
Every alternative program that we studied is looking first for intellectual capacity and leadership approach. Jane Shirley, executive director of Get Smart Schools (GSS), put it this way: “We’re looking for systemic thinkers. [Management expert] Peter Senge says that every system is perfectly designed to get the results it is getting. We want leaders who, when faced with a problem, understand it’s because whatever you’ve designed is supporting that particular problem—to understand the problem at the design level is the kind of creativity we are looking for.” GSS is preparing principals to lead autonomous schools, she emphasized, and “that is very different from leading schools in a bureaucracy.”
The University of Illinois is preparing principals to work in a bureaucracy, the Chicago Public Schools. But it has a similar emphasis. First, the program is embedded in a Ph.D. program, evidence of the kind of deep and creative thinking that it values. The program also demands that prospective leaders be capable of maintaining high expectations as a...