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States Can Strengthen Principal Preparation through Internships

Alexandria, VA—Eighteen percent of principals leave their posts annually, largely citing inadequate preparation as a key reason for leaving. Yet, principal preparation programs have been slow to keep up with the changing demands of the profession. In the same way investing in teacher apprenticeship programs helps address teacher shortages, strengthening principal preparation through principal internships can help states equip and retain more high-quality school leaders, according to a new NASBE analysis.

Internships are a high-leverage, evidence-based practice for preparing principals to meet the demands of the job. They can help develop an aspiring principal’s ability to establish a vision for learning and leading instruction, motivate and monitor change, and shape a positive school climate through collaboration—all important factors for improving student outcomes and teacher retention.

State boards can play a key role in strengthening principal preparation by setting principal standards that emphasize relevant field experience and ensuring alignment between licensing policies and principal standards. Policies that require real-world skill application, in turn, will incentivize preparation programs to include relevant training in their curriculum designs.

Several states have prioritized internships in principal preparation and licensure:

  • Illinois’s principal endorsement requires a yearlong performance-based internship that includes leadership opportunities, demonstration in instructional leadership, and experiences in working with diverse student populations.
  • California updated its principal licensure and program accreditation with new principal preparation standards adapted from national ISLLC standards, with an emphasis on preservice training and induction.
  • Pennsylvania leveraged an Innovative Principal Residency Grant to pilot extended training and support for new principals in high-need districts. In 2022–23, the state education agency used federal Title II-A funds to expand the residency program, linking preparation programs with specific school districts.
  • North Carolina’s Principal Fellows Program offers $4 million in competitive grants to preparation programs that demonstrate implementation of research-based practices, including hands-on, authentic learning experi­ences; fieldwork; and full-time internships for aspiring principals.

“Intensive, high-value learning opportunities for principals can improve their readiness, teacher retention, and student achievement,” writes author Jacqueline Muñiz. “State leaders have actionable options to create and shape opportunities to ensure that school leaders can lead effectively and stay in their schools.”

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at


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