Educating principals

April 04, 2005

THE STRIKING thing about the latest report on the quality of education colleges' training of school principals and administrators was not its verdict, that "the majority of these programs range from inadequate to appalling." That conclusion has not changed since at least 1987, when a national study found the same. Instead, the stunning thing was that three leading organizations of principals and administrators essentially agreed that "many programs simply do not teach what it takes to run a school or a school district."

The new study of 28 education colleges - led by Arthur E. Levine, president of Columbia University's Teachers College - blasts school leader training programs for low standards, weak faculty and unfocused and irrelevant curricula. It says too many schools are just "cash cows," generating tuition from educators racking up credits to move up career and salary scales. "Credentials have come to overshadow competence," the report says, and it suggests eliminating salary scales that reward grab-bag credit accumulation and creating a relevant MBA-like degree for school leaders.

Around the nation, some states are trying to raise education colleges' standards. Alternative ways of training principals are gaining currency, as exemplified by the national New Leaders for New Schools program, which in partnership with the state of Maryland is expanding to Baltimore. But for decades, every study of highly successful schools has pointed to principals who provide instructional leadership, and this latest study shows that progress toward training programs that would help principals fulfill that role has been too slow.

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