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ODU researchers at forefront of nationally recognized program to share information on school leadership initiatives

Ever since a national report came out five years ago taking colleges and universities to task for deficiencies in their school leadership preparation programs, many higher education institutions have revamped their programs to develop new approaches in meeting current needs.

Now, thanks to a $146,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education last fall, Old Dominion University is taking the lead on a national platform in sharing the lessons learned from 29 of these programs across the country, through the development of a communications hub.

In fall 2008, the DOE funded 22 grant proposals from schools throughout the nation, including one from ODU, to undertake groundbreaking studies aimed at better preparing leaders for the elementary and secondary levels; another seven proposals received funding in 2009. This latest grant to ODU will ensure that colleges and universities throughout the country benefit from new school leadership initiatives that have been tested and proven to work well. The communications hub, or electronic workspace, will not only disseminate information, but also facilitate interaction among researchers.

Commenting on the 2005 report by Arthur Levine, then the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, Steve Myran, a co-principal investigator of the two ODU grants, noted, "Some of his criticisms were legitimate, and so I think a lot of programs have really been looking at how to meet the current needs, how to step it up. But of course, what happens is that people make those individual efforts and many of them go unnoticed. What we're now doing provides the opportunity to really share with each other what the better programs are doing and expedite that learning curve."

Karen Crum and Myran, assistant professors of educational leadership in ODU's Darden College of Education, are co-principal investigators on the latest DOE grant, awarded last fall. They were in Washington, D.C., Feb. 3 to report on their progress toward the creation of a communications hub for the nation's school leadership programs at a meeting of U.S. Department of Education School Leadership Program officials, project directors and program evaluators.

In addition to developing a Web site for the 29 grant-recipient schools across the country, the ODU group is exploring a number of other ways to share information. These initiatives include the development of white papers on best practices and challenges in school leadership, and creating a wikki, an informational Web site where researchers can edit entries as new information becomes available. Crum credited Brian Hobson, the Darden College's director of information technology, for creating the Web site, and doctoral student Pete Baker for his assistance in developing the wikki component.

"What we're looking to do over the next three and a half years as the grant plays out is to have bimonthly virtual meetings using Adobe Connect with the project directors, and quarterly meetings with the program evaluators, to help continue to orchestrate our efforts at the national level," Crum said. "There was a lot of excitement about our presentation because I think the folks were looking for a concerted focus on where we're going, so it's not a string of disparate grants," Crum said.

Based on research from year one of the USDOE School Leadership Program grant, Crum and Myran presented research findings at the University Council for Educational Administration Annual Convention in a symposium with other USDOE SLP grant holders. As a result of this collaboration, the group proposed, and had accepted, a special issue to the Journal of School Leadership. Crum will serve as co-guest editor of the special issue, and Myran and Crum's study, "Tracing the Development of a Rural University-District Partnership: Four Pillars Necessary for Continued Success," will be one of the articles. The special issue is scheduled for publication sometime in 2011.

In sharing the progress and results of the 29 DOE-funded studies, the ODU researchers are helping to ensure that leadership education programs at colleges and universities across the country can continue to improve their curricula, Crum noted. The ODU team also plans to promote the use of a common research framework that will aid in the ongoing collection and sharing of research data.

"One of the conversations that we started at the conference in Washington, and will continue through the communications hub, was about aligning as many projects as we can utilizing a common measure of aspiring leaders' leadership skills that was developed by a researcher at Bank Street College of Education in New York," Myran said.

"Right now, everyone is measuring aspects of effective leadership, but not necessarily with a common instrument, and not necessarily with better instruments. A lot of folks aren't even aware of this particular instrument that was developed eight to 10 years ago. If more people are using it, we'll pool those data and have much greater statistical power. This will allow us to shift from smaller research projects that have the potential to be large, nationally significant research efforts in leadership," Myran explained.

A major benefit of creating a communications hub is to share information more quickly, Crum added, "beyond the traditional manuscript and journal venue that we have in academia." At the Washington meeting, Crum pointed out that it can take a year from the time a manuscript is accepted for publication to when it actually goes into print, and by that time the data collected for the study are two years old. That's where the ODU team's Web site, wikki, white papers and electronic meetings with project leaders will be valuable in the dissemination of information.

One of the DOE-funded studies that will be shared was designed by Crum, with assistance from Myran. The ODU researchers received a grant of $655,969 to create a tailored master's of education program for two groups of educators identified as potential leaders among the ranks of Northampton County Public Schools educators on Virginia's Eastern Shore. In this "grow your own" initiative, these educators will receive an accelerated master's by taking distance education courses taught by ODU faculty members.

The first group, consisting of eight students, will receive their degrees in August, and the second group, of up to 12 students, is scheduled to begin the program next January. The goal is for them to assume leadership roles when openings become available in their remote, rural school division, which traditionally has had a difficult time recruiting and keeping staff at the principal and vice principal levels.

This article was posted on: February 12, 2010

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