Should principals be trained like MBAs?

The key to a good school is a good principal. But how do we get more of them? Universities are offering MBA-like programs to teach management skills, reports HechingerEd.

To prepare leaders to take over failing schools, three Indiana universities are trying to combine business practices with education ideals, reports AP.  Some don’t like the idea.

“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.”

Rice University in Texas offers a master’s of business administration program to prepare principals for Houston schools.

I wonder which is hardest to teach: management or educational leadership? I suspect the latter.

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  1. I don’t know the answer.

    Most principals are first teachers and they learn how to manage people by first managing children.

    When they become principals, many tend to treat teachers like children which turns out to be counterproductive.

    But I’ve had an MBA for a principal and his lack of understanding of what was needed for the school to function wasn’t a very good experience either.

    I’ve had three or four good principals over the years and they were all fired.

    Being good at this job can be hazardous to one’s career.

  2. Greifer says:

    –…[or how to] deal with families that don’t value education…Those types of things, MBAs aren’t going to help me with.”

    How do you know? An actual successful employer and business owner has to deal with customers that don’t value what the business leader values and employees that don’t value what the business leader values. He has to learn to articulate a vision and bring everyone along the road to create that vision, not just set out a vision and decide he can reach it by himself, and that everyone will be happy when they get there. He has to develop financial acumen and empirical acumen to know when something is failing and needs changing. And he has to know what he doesn’t know, and has to rely on and delegate to those that do.

    Can an MBA teach those things? Yes, it can. I’m not going to evaluate which ones or how well here, but principals with the above skills from a business perspective would be a lot better than principals without the above skills.

  3. I taught for 30 years, but toward the end of my teaching career I went and got a M.S. in Managerial Leadership. Not an MBA, but one that focused on people, communication, leadership styles and skills, and understanding organizational development and analysis. I used to go to school after attending class and want to bang my head against the wall as I realized what total incompetent administrators there were in my school. I agree that many admins do treat teachers and staff like children. So, yes….I think a good dose of business acumen is in order. The MBA isn’t necessarily the right way, but incorporating good managerial leadership principles along with great educational understanding would help.

  4. Matthew Ladner says:

    Project management and academic management skills are not mutually exclusive, and the important thing to recognize is that the Ed Schools currently are failing to impart either of them.

  5. Trained to be managers, yes.

    Trained to be MBAs, no.

    I’ve worked for both MBAs and principals, and the MBA is no guarantee of quality. Management skills, however, especially logistics management, are a crucial piece of educational administration that gets overlooked. I suspect some of the best principals out there learned logistics and people management from organizations like the military rather than from a business school or ed school.

  6. “MBA” and “effective executive” are not synonyms. Before deciding to train school administrators in MBA programs or MBA-like programs, it would be wise to review some critiques of the way that MBA education in the context of *business*. See, for example Henry Mintzberg’s book “Managers not MBAs.”

    One thing that *would* be useful is for school administrators to have some experience, ideally some management experience, in non-school non-governmental organizations.

  7. I agree with you, Joanne. I also think all principals should be master teachers, not one or two-year wonders. It’s their job to inspire and lead, and inconvenient though it may be, I’m afraid to do that they have to understand the job to accomplish that.

  8. Actually, I do have an answer as practiced in the Brooklyn College Master’s Degree program in Educational Leadership, where I am Program Head.

    From our brief Program description on our website:

    The Educational Leadership Curriculum Scope & Sequence is uniquely structured to combine a small group, cohort-based Colloquium sequence with a Content sequence in Management and Instructional Leadership.

    The Colloquium emphasizes field application of Content knowledge (see below) under the guidance of expert practitioner faculty members. The Colloquium cohort, students and faculty, remain together throughout the Program, forming bonds intended to last beyond graduation. Students attend Colloquium seminars, usually held bi-weekly, supplemented by 150 hours per semester of guided fieldwork supervised by Brooklyn College faculty in collaboration with school and district personnel. A satisfactory fieldwork portfolio is required of each graduate.

    Content courses, often taught online, integrate building- and district-level skills meeting New York State standards for School Building and School District Leaders. Each semester, students take 2 Content courses. Semester 1: (a) Management and Finance, (b) Instruction and Curriculum Development, Innovation, and Evaluation; Semester 2: (a) Personnel Administration, (b) Supervision of Instruction; Semester 3: (a) Education Law and Ethics, (b) School and Community Relations.

    I would be happy to expand on this vision and its implementation should anyone be interested.


  9. tim-10-ber says:

    I like what EmKa said…

    My question is why do principals have to be teachers? Maybe a couple of years in the classroom to understand what teachers face day in and day out…but I believe they need strong managerial/people skills…

  10. Good teachers have strong people/managerial skills. If they didn’t have it in the classroom, chances are slimmer they’ll have it with their staff. It’s not a mutually exclusive skillset. I certainly don’t have it, but I work under a terrific principal who does — and was a talented teacher before moving into admin.

  11. Leadership is leadership, whether learned in the military or in an MBA program. Effective leadership is what being an administrator is all about. We manage to get by because a slim majority of administrators are leaders who gained their skills by luck or experience. We ought to insist on some education. Think just how much better the schools would be if we hade even 20% more administrators who were also effective leaders!

  12. People skills are important for dealing with kids, parents, teachers, the superintendent–the monsignor!–but I’m surprised we’re not hearing more about being an instructional leader. That’s what 40 years of education research has found most important for student achievement.


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