Innovations in Education: Innovative Pathways to School Leadership
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Appendix A: Research Methodology

The research design and methodology for this project is an adaptation of the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), along with general case study processes. This guide is based on a longer and more detailed report that includes individual case studies of each of the six study sites and a cross-site analysis of key generalizable findings. While classic benchmarking looks for best or promising practices using quantitative measures and comparisons among organizations, most of the innovative programs in this study are too new to fully support this methodology. A brief overview of this project's adapted methodology follows.

Develop Conceptual Framework

A study scope or conceptual framework was developed from an analysis of research and descriptive information about school leadership preparation, including alternative route programs. Experts in leadership development and alternative route approaches were recruited to serve on an external advisory panel that provided feedback to refine the framework and prioritize issues to investigate. The resulting study scope and guiding questions directed all aspects of the study (see figure 2 on page 7).

Site selection was a multistep process to ensure that the guide would feature an array of practices reflected in the elements of the study scope and would represent a variety of geographic locations and contexts with which district administrators, university faculty members, and other key stakeholders could identify. Initially, 60 potential sites were identified based on public documents, marketing materials, reports, and program Web sites using online search descriptors such as alternative leadership preparation, alternative principal certification, alternative licensure for school administrators, expedited certification, and accelerated certification.

A screening process filtered the list to 18 sites. These second-round sites were selected based on four criteria: candidates are recruited into the program based on demonstrated leadership experience; the program offers an accelerated route to certification; the program is currently accepting candidates; and the program has evidence of promising practices in the 24 areas of the study scope, such as screening candidates using stated criteria, tailored, field-based programming, and strong mentor support.

The 18 sites were then screened using a weighted criteria matrix based on the study scope (figure 2). The screen ing process was conducted through targeted phone interviews with program staff and thorough reviews of program materials including: recruiting and application procedures; selection criteria and screening process; curriculum scope and sequence; instructional manuals; residency experience; coaching; mentoring; participant evaluation and support; follow-through support; and program evaluation information. The selected six sites scored between 24 and 20 on a scale of 24 possible points and were ranked based on their weighted scores. In addition, they represented a range of geographic locations, contextual conditions, and types of programming.

Collect Data

Collecting detailed descriptive information from program staff, partners, funders, participants, and district leaders was key to understanding each program's practices, the outcome or impact each achieved, and the lessons learned from which others could benefit. The major steps to this phase involved finalizing the site visit interview guide based on the study scope and arranging and conducting site visits to the programs

Each of the six sites hosted a two-day visit that included interviews with administrators, program participants, and partners, as well as observation of events when scheduling permitted. During the site visits, these key personnel and stakeholders were asked questions from the site visit discussion guide tailored to their particular role group. In addition, artifacts from the sites, such as applications, planning tools, interview protocols, curriculum materials, and participant work were collected to provide concrete examples of program practices. The study team collated the information collected during the site visits and developed a case study for each site

Analyze and Report

Once all the data were collected, the project team analyzed them to understand the promising practices uncovered throughout the benchmarking project, both within and across programs.

Two products resulted from this research: a report of findings and this practitioner's guide. The report provides a more detailed analysis of key findings across sites, a detailed case study of each site, a collection of artifacts, and key project documents. The practitioner's guide is a summary of the report intended for broad distribution.


This guide offers descriptive examples of new ways to prepare school leaders for the challenging work awaiting them. Ultimately, readers of this guide will need to select, adapt, and implement practices that meet their individual needs and contexts. The guide will be broadly distributed around the country through presentations at national and regional conferences, as well as through national associations and networks. The guide is also accessible online at

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Last Modified: 07/17/2006