In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Administrator Preparation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Book Chapters
  • Journal Articles and Reports
  • “Theory Movement”
  • Standards Movement
  • Challenges and Reform
  • Modern Administrator Preparation Programs

Education Administrator Preparation
John R. Hoyle, Colleen Hoy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0019


Administrator preparation refers to leadership education graduate programs in universities, granting master’s and doctoral degrees in educational administration or educational leadership. These programs usually include completing requirements for state licensure to serve as school principals, superintendents, and other central office administrators. Students’ degree programs include a plethora of courses including educational finance, organizational theory, leadership processes, education law, education policy, instructional management, research methods, program evaluation and data management, systems planning and analysis, and human resource management. The two most prominent professional associations for individuals engaged in administrator preparation and related research efforts are the National Council for Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) and the University Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Researchers for NCPEA reveal that more than 370 graduate programs in educational administration include approximately 3,000 professors and nearly all programs offer the master’s degree and courses leading to administrative licensure, many with an online option. The terminal degree—PhD or EdD—is viewed as a necessity for candidates competing for central office jobs or principalships in many school districts. The historical context and evolution of theory within the field has been important in generating research and change in administrator preparation programs. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), now called ISLLC 2008 Leadership Education Policy Standards, are the primary standards in place for administrator preparation programs. This standardization has raised significant criticism within the field, spurring best-practice research and efforts to reform existing programs. “Interdisciplinary” administrator preparation is a newer movement promoted by growing criticism of traditional administrator preparation. These new degree programs blend graduate-level courses in financial, entrepreneurial, and innovation skills in business administration, public administration, and public affairs with courses in departments of educational administration. In addition to new courses, the popularity of online courses and degrees increases each year. This new program content and the new mode of delivery require research to be conducted to compare the quality of credentials awarded online and through the traditional model.

General Overviews

Beginning in the early 1900s, courses in administrator preparation were taught in universities by pioneers in the field. Strayer 1923 is the first report on the practice of preparing administrators and the role of the superintendency in the United States. The report was written for the National Education Council in the 1920s. The rapid growth in population and social changes were important forces that called for school administrators who possessed additional skills in human relations and organizational management. Thus, the complexities faced by school administrators and the professors who prepared them led to the “theory movement,” which remains today as a vital component of administrator preparation. For a descriptive overview, see Culbertson 1983. National standards for the preparation and professional development identify the most necessary skills for administrators and were first established in the early 1980s (American Association of School Administrators 1983). By the end of the decade, Pitner 1988 generated work that prompted broad-based change in administrator preparation. More recent research and reforms have incorporated and built upon many of these changes, seeking to identify the knowledge and skills necessary for successful school leaders (see Guthrie and Schuermann 2010, Marshall and Oliva 2010, and Wong and Nicotera 2007). Hoyle and Torres 2010 provides the user the most complete analysis of current educational administration preparation programs available and offers further policy recommendations for improving these programs. These programs are successful if their graduates successfully impact student achievement. An investigation of research and the roles of administrators can be found in Waters and Marzano 2006.

  • American Association of School Administrators. 1983. Guidelines for the preparation of school administrators. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators.

    Developed by the AASA Committee for the Advancement of School Administration (CASA) and authored by Cooperative Professor of the Year John Hoyle, Professor, Texas A&M University. This was the initial national effort that involved more than one hundred practitioners, legislators, business leaders, and scholars in seeking to identity the most important skills for school administrators at the campus and district levels. They became the first “standards” to guide NCATE in the accreditation of preparation programs.

  • Culbertson, Jack. 1983. Theory in educational administration: Echoes for critical thinkers. Educational Researcher 12.10: 15–22.

    This article by a famed theorist in the discipline remains a must read for professors and aspiring school administrators. Culbertson, an NCPEA Legend, set the intellectual stage for others who seek wisdom on the subject. His writing is deeply insightful and yet very readable for both the beginner and the veteran school leader.

  • Guthrie, James W., and Patrick J. Schuermann. 2010. Successful school leadership. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    Guthrie and Schuermann have produced a complete overview of primary topics and skills that aspiring school leaders need to administer for higher student performance. The authors blend cutting edge leadership theory, policy, and practice with the basic Educational Leadership Constituent Consortium (ELCC) standards together with suggestions for best practices in leading successful schools. This book should be read by future and current school administrators.

  • Hoyle, John, and Mario Torres. 2010. Six steps to preparing exemplary principals and superintendents: Leadership education at its best. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Currently the only attempt at a complete analysis of today’s educational administration preparation programs, the work provides users with model degree plans, admissions criteria, a dissertation quality assessment instrument, model questions to assess student applicants, perceptions about the program, and recommendations for improvement. The book is a valuable resource for considering program standards, program delivery models, and program outcomes.

  • Marshall, Catherine, and Maricela Oliva. 2010. Leadership for social justice. 2d ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    The work is an excellent source to assist school leaders in assuring equitable practices for students and faculty. The authors are recognized authorities on this vital leadership issue. Professors will gain valuable ideas on preparing students who model social justice.

  • Pitner, N. J. 1988. School administrator preparation. The state of the art. In Leaders for America’s schools. Edited by Daniel Griffiths, Robert T. Stout, and Patrick B. Forsyth, 367–402. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

    Pitner’s work was a catalyst in bringing change to administrator preparation. She described the weaknesses and made suggestions for improvement by recommending new skills, more rigorous curriculum, and greater focus on hands-on internship.

  • Strayer, George. 1923. Status of the superintendency. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

    A first report on the preparation and job role of the superintendency in America in the 1920s.

  • Waters, J. Timothy, and Robert J. Marzano. 2006. School district leadership that works. The effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Aurora, CO: McREL.

    This working paper is based on meta-analyses of research studies attempting to link superintendent leadership functions with student achievement. The authors site five district responsibilities: goal-setting processes, goals for achievement and instruction, board agreement with the goals, monitoring goals, and proper use of resources to support goals. Even though the findings are based on small correlations, they are important to stress in preparation programs.

  • Wong, Kenneth, and Anna Nicotera. 2007. Successful schools and educational accountability. Boston: Pearson.

    This book is perhaps the best guide to assist professors in preparing future and current administrators with the knowledge and skills needed in accountability. The authors present very readable chapters on testing, disaggregating data, and applying the data for improvement in teaching and student learning.

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