UPDATED: Laura Bush Is Unveiling a Bold Principal-Training Effort Today

By Dakarai I. Aarons — September 29, 2010 2 min read
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[UPDATE: Mrs. Bush announced details of the new principal-training initiative this morning. For the full story, read my article here.]

Former first lady Laura W. Bush is set to announce a new nationwide initiative today aimed at changing the way America’s principals are recruited and prepared—and how they run schools.

The announcement, to be made at a high school in Dallas, marks the first major effort of the George W. Bush Institute, based at Southern Methodist University.

The Bush Institute has an admittedly ambitious goal: By 2020, it hopes to have certified or otherwise influenced the preparation of 50,000 K-12 principals, or half the nation’s principal ranks.

In the first year, an estimated 200 aspiring principals will take part in the programs across the country, with plans to build up, said James W. Guthrie, a senior fellow and director of education policy studies for the Bush Institute. The initial cities committed to the initiative are Dallas: Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; St. Louis; Denver; and Plano, Texas. Other cities and participating organizations will be announced later.

The initiative, called the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership, includes partnerships with business schools and with nontraditional providers, such as Teach For America and New Leaders for New Schools, as part of the Institute’s goal to “augment the pipeline” of people pursuing the principalship, Guthrie said.

One example is already underway at Indianapolis’ Marian University, where the initiative is working with the college of education. The Marian University Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership has recruited 31 members for its inaugural cohort, not only educators who have come through traditional programs, but some who were trained via Teach For America and career-changers from the business field.

The certification program will include an emphasis on systems thinking and viewing leadership as responsive service, rather than a power mechanism. The goal of the Marian program is to produce 500 school leaders over the next five years, initially for Indiana and the Great Lakes region, but eventually perhaps nationally.

The alliance between business schools and education leaders is not without precedent. Harvard University has run its Public Education Leadership Project through a partnership between the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education for many years, and the university launched a new education leadership doctorate this fall that gives students cross-disciplinary training from the business and education schools, as well as Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which focuses on public policy and service.

The Bush Institute will serve as a convener of the various consortia and make available modules of education leadership content to help fill in the gaps the business school partners may have. It also will establish a board of examiners that will make a set of standards to help evaluate the candidates in the various sites.

Each principal-preparation program will look somewhat different, but that is by design, Mr. Guthrie said, providing a laboratory upon which to study the institute’s principles.

“I don’t think we know enough to prescribe,” he said. “We’re letting 10,000 flowers bloom and we will evaluate, evaluate, evaluate and see what works.”

I’m in Dallas now and I’ll have more details and reaction to the plan after the announcement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.