The Organizational Structure of Urban Educational Systems: Bureaucratic Practices in Mass Societies
Joseph G. Weeres
This chapter traces the evolution of the organizational structure of urban education over the past seventy-five years. During this period, urban school systems possessed two different forms of organizational structure: a unitary one that arose at the turn of the century and lasted until approximately the mid-1960s and an institutionalized form that still exists in most urban school districts today.
Each of these structures emerged from changes in the political economy of urban school districts. At the turn of the century, industrialization gave rise to a rapidly expanding, largely insular, city economy and a political system dominated by pro-growth urban elites. The demands of these elites for organizational practices and procedures that emphasized uniformity, standardization, and efficiency resulted in the establishment of the unitary form of organizational structure. This form closely resembled Max Weber's description of bureaucracy and was characterized by a functional division of labor, tightly integrated pyramidal structure, and strong unity of command. It was a structure that required strong, central control at the apex of the organization and that, in turn, depended on a governance system capable of identifying and legitimating a unitary school system interest.
By the end of World War II, however, the insularity of the city economy was being challenged by competition arising from suburbanization and a national economy. Most big cities fared poorly in this competitive arena and consequently became increasingly dependent on fiscal resources from state and federal governments. The resulting fiscal and political interdependencies fragmented school governance, making it necessary for school administrators to respond to the demands of many different interests. The institutionalized form of structure emerged out of these political and fiscal conditions. It is a form characterized by more loosely coupled subunits, accommodation to diverse centers of organizational power, and authority dependent on multiple, often contradictory, external sources of legitimation.