With the passage of House Bill 1017 in 1991, and with the
overwhelming national demand to improve schools, it's easy to
wonder why they don't just follow the TV commercial and "do it."
Some school districts across the country and in Oklahoma have
made considerable progress in getting their community leaders
involved in change. Improved teaching methods, textbooks and
other materials have been demonstrated, and there are new ways to
deal with problems of discipline and even violence.
So why don't all schools just put those new ideas to work? Why
don't they just call in parents and community leaders for help?
Why don't board members, administrators, principals and teachers
get together and make the changes?
Why don't we see results now?
The overriding answer to those questions is that school
leaders, teachers, parents and the community don't know how to
implement decentralized decisionking, said Fred H. Wood, dean of
the University of Oklahoma College of Education. They simply are
not prepared, and they need training.
"The key issue is leadership and how we prepare our school
leaders," said Wood, who has studied the problems for 27 years.
"We have a lot of good leaders who are not prepared for leading
the kind of schools we are going to need for the 21st Century.
"Our schools, as they are now organized, have pretty well
reached their limits. We can't get much better with organization
from the top down, in which administrators make all the decisions
and teachers are supposed to implement them. It's an old
fashioned model that even business doesn't follow much any
Wood has started an education administration program at OU for
developing principals who understand how to work with board
members, administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders
in making decisions. It includes internships with schools, and
the graduates have found jobs as principals quickly.
That, however, doesn't help the administrators and principals
who have been there for years and are not trained in
decentralized decisionking. In a recent meeting involving
educators, one district reported that "everyone recognizes the
problems, but no one knows what to do about them."
The solution to that sad situation is a long term program that
begins with the systematic training of everyone involved, said
Wood. It must be accomplished district by district, rather than
through any magic statewide plan, and it often takes up to five
years to begin to see results.
"We have to prepare the schools to work with the community and
the people within the system," said Wood. "A school district
needs a planning team to train the administrators and teachers
and take them through the process of working with the people in
"They need to plan changes that are needed in that district or
in certain schools or programs. If a reading system is working,
while another school has a high number of low achieving or low
ability students, why not focus on that project and put the money
needed for textbooks into it, instead of automatically buying new
textbooks for a reading system that is working?"
That can be achieved, he said, if a school district and its
community join forces in setting goals and developing programs to
meet the goals. I saw that happen nearly 20 years ago when I
covered education in Minneapolis, where citizens work with the
schools to plan each year. Wood pointed to a New York school
district that started decentralized decisionking 10 years ago.
"The big changes in that district have come in the last four
or five years," he said. "Now, even the secretarial staff,
custodians and bus drivers are trained to understand how to work
with students. They understand what the schools are trying to do
in the curriculum and how to treat the students in meeting their