Should principals be trained like MBAs?

Teachers may be having a rough time lately, but it can’t be easy to be a principal in tough economic times either. With looming budget cuts and layoffs, school principals are having to make difficult decisions. They are also expected to be visionary instructional leaders as well, in the midst of a push for tougher graduation standards. 

What type of training is best for the principal's office?

As a result, lots of school districts are experimenting with different ways of training principals, including programs that will teach them business skills similar to those learned in MBA programs. 

In Indiana, for example, three universities hope to combine the best practices of business with education ideals, according to a story in the Associated Press. The idea is to install newly trained leaders in failing schools, but the concept has already met with some resistance. 

“Principals don’t need more business; if anything, we need more training with our at-risk students that are more mobile, [or how to] deal with families that don’t value education,” Steve Baker, principal at Bluffton High School and incoming president of the Indiana Association of School Principals, told the Associated Press. “Those types of things, MBAs aren’t going to help me with.” 

The idea isn’t a new one; Rice University in Texas launched a master’s of business administration program to prepare principals for Houston schools a few years back. And there’s been a lot of discussion about just how principals, who fill multiple roles, should be trained.

“School leaders often feel like the combined mayor, police chief and schoolmaster of a town with a population of 1,000 or more,”  Jay Mathews of The Washington Post noted in one piece about the topic.

But will a business degree help? 

Liz Willen


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john thompson

Everyone can use more training, but what principals really need is more hands. If we want principals to be instructional leaders, for instance, create an additional position of building manager. If we want the principal to lead in creation of a learning culture in the toughest schools, invest in alternative slots so that building administrators aren’t spending most of their time with the same chronically disruptive students. And in the future, whenever someone adds new priorities for principals, take something old off their plates.

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