Cities across America have long hunted for tougher, better-trained principals to turn around struggling schools full of impoverished children. A major university and an influential group of educators in Texas are proposing a provocative way to meet the demand: They say urban principals of the future can skip the traditional education school credentials and learn instead about business.
The nascent movement toward an alternative path to school leadership is driven by the troubles facing schools in the District and elsewhere as would-be reformers argue that a key to raising student achievement is to overhaul personnel, from the central office down to the classroom. The change also comes amid growing debate over which of a principal’s many duties are most important. School leaders often feel like the combined mayor, police chief and schoolmaster of a town with a population of 1,000 or more.
Education schools, where most principals are trained, emphasize teaching and managing children. But organizers of a new Rice University program for “education entrepreneurs,” and some top education officials in the Washington area, say an inner-city principal cannot succeed without enough business smarts to manage adults. For example, they say, principals need to know how to recruit great employees and fire bad ones.
Rice, which has no education school, is launching a master’s of business administration program this year to prepare principals for several Houston schools.