Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Getting School-Based Management Right: What Works and What Doesn't

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Getting School-Based Management Right: What Works and What Doesn't

Article excerpt

What conditions in schools promote high performance through school-based management? From research in 44 schools, Ms. Wohlstetter extracts four basic reasons why school-based management fails and six strategies that lead to success.

Afteryears of waiting for solid evidence that school-based management (SBM) leads to improved school performance, educators and policy makers are questioning the wisdom of using decentralized management to reform education. Many people say that the best decisions about education are those made closest to the students, but few realize the extent of systemwide change that SBM entails. Often an SBM system is implemented simply by setting up a council at the school site and giving the council at least some responsibility in the areas of budget, personnel, and curriculum. It is assumed that individual school councils understand their new roles and responsibilities and will take appropriate action to improve school performance.

For more than three years, my colleagues and I at the Center on Educational Governance at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles have been studying schools and school districts in the United States, Canada, and Australia to find out what makes SBM work.[1] The purpose of the research was to identify the conditions in schools that promote high performance through SBM. We defined "high-performance SBM" as occurring in schools that were actively restructuring in the areas of curriculum and instruction; these were schools in which SBM worked well. We compared this group of successful schools to schools that were using SBM but with less success in making changes that affected teaching and learning.

We visited a total of 44 schools in 13 school districts and interviewed more than 500 people, from school board members, superintendents, and associate superintendents in district offices to principals, teachers, parents, and students. All the schools we studied - which included elementary, middle, and high schools - had been operating under SBM for at least four years, and some of them much longer.(2)

In brief, we found that successful SBM requires a redesign of the whole school organization that goes far beyond a change in school governance. For SBM to work, people at the school site must have "real" authority over budget, personnel, and curriculum. Equally important, if SBM is to help improve school performance, that authority must be used to introduce changes in the functioning of the school that actually affect teaching and learning.

The school's strategy for using its new power must include strategies for decentralizing three other essential resources: 1) professional development and training for teachers and other stakeholders in managing, in solving problems, and in curriculum and instruction; 2) information about student performance, about parent and community satisfaction, and about school resources to help schoolpeople make informed decisions; and 3) rewards to acknowledge the increased effort SBM requires and to recognize improvements in school performance. Our research also pointed out the importance of leadership on the part of the principal and of having some sort of instructional guidance mechanism - e.g., a curriculum framework at the school site to direct reform efforts.(3) Here I present the knowledge we gained in our research in the form of four basic reasons why SBM fails and six strategies that lead to success.

Why SBM Fails

1. SBM is adopted as an end in itself. As a form of governance, SBM will not in itself generate improvement in school performance. Instead, SBM is simply a means through which school-level decision makers can implement various reforms that can improve teaching and learning.(4) In the schools we visited that were struggling to implement SBM, there was little connection between SBM and the reform of curriculum and instruction, and school councils often got bogged down in issues of power - who can attend meetings, who can vote, and so on - and had no time or energy left to confront issues of school improvement. …

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