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Rethinking Principal Priorities of Training

The Rice approach "will increase the psychological distance between principals and teachers, which is often already too great," said Gerald W. Bracey, an education author and psychologist who lives in Fairfax County. "It goes against the grain of trying to have principals become more instructional leaders, not just managers."

Mel J. Riddile, the 2006 national high school principal of the year, who runs T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, said management skills are important, but so is teaching. "Schools benefit or suffer in direct proportion to the amount of time that the principals spend focusing on instruction," he said.

Rice officials said partners in the venture include Teach for America, which places college graduates in inner-city classrooms; a school improvement advocacy group called the Houston A+ Challenge; some Houston area school systems; and the public charter school networks KIPP and YES, which have succeeded in raising inner-city test scores but are recruiting principals to help them expand. Linbeck is a KIPP adviser.

Efforts to retool principal training dovetail with similar initiatives in Houston, New York and San Diego for alternative teacher training. Charter school networks in those cities have set up teacher institutes, some with education school affiliations and some without.

Rice's leadership program will begin in July with 15 candidates for a two-year MBA, plus 30 other students in a short-term course of study similar to the management institutes run by many business schools. All candidates will work in Houston area schools and take classes on nights and weekends and during the summer, Linbeck said.

Kaleem Caire, leader of a foundation in Bowie that promotes academic opportunities for adolescent males, said the Rice initiative could help nudge education schools to provide more business training. Caire said he tailored his own education degree at the University of Wisconsin to include studies in business and urban education.

Michael A. Durso, principal of Springbrook High School in Montgomery County and a former principal in Virginia and the District, said he found the Rice plan "new, fresh and possibly helpful." But he added: "My concern with these business models has always been the obvious disconnect -- our losses are not as easy to cut as in the business world."

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