CPREConsortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Wisconsin Madisonchildren

School-Based Management

Drawing on the findings from several recent research reports, we argue that in order for school-based management to work, it must provide a series of organizational conditions at the school level. Schools then must use these conditions to work on and improve the dimension of schools that most directly impacts student achievement-- the curriculum and instruction program. Further, school-based management must be coupled with school-level accountability for results. Finally, school-based management must provide schools with control over their budget

Taken as a whole, these studies show that effective SBM must:

1. Use district and state goals, standards and benchmarks to focus reform efforts on high levels of student learning and to funnel the energies of school professionals to the changes in curriculum and instruction needed to produce those levels of learning.
Several recent studies of successful school decentralization have found that a focus on student learning and use of the decision-making authority provided to the school to improve the curriculum and instructional program were critical in making the decentralization and restructuring process work. In addition, the existence of district or state curriculum content and student performance standards helped reinforce this use of school decision-making. These findings should not be surprising. It makes sense that funneling the energies unleashed in a school-based management/shared decision-making strategy to the key element that determines student achievement -- curriculum and instruction -- and assessing the impact of the schools actions on student achievement is one of the driving factors determining the success of SBM. The surprise is that so many SBM initiatives in education have not had this focus.

2. Involve all of a school's teachers in decision-making by establishing a network of teacher decision-making forums and work teams.
CPRE researchers concluded - based on a four year, international study of school-based management, that researched 40 schools in 13 districts in three countries - that the most effective school-based management strategies dispersed decision-making powers to all teachers through a series of horizontal and vertical teacher decision-making teams. The work of these various committees transformed the abstract and elusive notions of "teacher involvement" and "shared decision-making" into the concrete specifics that were needed to make restructuring work, such as: changing the mathematics, science, reading and social studies programs, developing actual curriculum units that were used in the school's classrooms; creating instructional practices that worked in the school; linking professional development to required new pedagogical strategies, reflecting on and assessing instructional practice; and continuously improving school strategies. CPRE also concluded that these types of decision-making arrangements were much more important than either school site council sub-committees or school site councils themselves. This is not to devalue the effectiveness of councils: councils were needed. Councils generally had the power to approve major school policies. Councils often were the key vehicle for directly involving parents in the processes of setting school policy. But CPRE found that councils tended to involve only a few teachers in decision making roles.

3. Allow schools to recruit and select staff so they can build a cohesive faculty committed to the school's mission, vision and culture.
In order to build a faculty committed to the vision the school wants to implement, research also shows that schools need the authority to recruit and select staff who support that vision and want to contribute to the hard work of restructuring required to put that vision into practice. Building a cohesive faculty committed to a high standards school vision is not easy. It is hindered both by district practices that place personnel in schools with little if any school input and by contract provisions that allow teachers to transfer into and out of schools based solely on years of experience and teacher choice. Thus, another important element of a comprehensively designed school-based management or restructuring strategy is decentralization of the personnel function to school sites, i.e., providing schools with the authority to recruit and select staff. Changing rules, regulations, contract provisions and other mechanisms to allow school sites to recruit and select staff will take several years. One of the most vexing findings about this personnel element of successful decentralized school management is that it too often is given only superficial attention, and when it is taken seriously, it requires many years to fully implement.

4. Focus on continuous improvement through ongoing, schoolwide professional development in both curriculum/instruction and management skills.
All recent studies have concluded that substantial investment in ongoing professional development focused on the entire school and structured to develop both individual and organizational capacity is another critically important ingredient that makes school decentralization work. Further, broader studies of the implementation of standards-based reform conclude that capacity development is critical to effective implementation. A comprehensive professional development strategy helps teachers acquire the new professional expertise they need to engage in successful school restructuring. When shifting from more hierarchically to more collegially run schools, most school personnel also need to learn collaborative skills, teamwork strategies and leadership expertise. Additional expertise is needed for the new managerial responsibilities that accompanies school-based management and restructuring such as recruiting and selecting staff, developing and monitoring budgets, supervising peers, and assessing program effectiveness. In short, substantive school restructuring requires teachers to develop an array of new professional expertise which can only be developed through ongoing, long term professional development.

5. Create a professional school culture committed to producing higher levels of learning for all students.
Professional community is created when teachers work together on common objectives, share the successes and failures of such efforts, and reflect together on the curriculum and instructional practice they deploy as a faculty in their school. As a result of these efforts, teachers "own" both the product and the consequences of their work; professional community both creates and reinforces peer pressure and faculty-wide responsibility for effective pedagogy and student learning. Put differently, professional community creates a school culture characterized by collective responsibility for student learning and collective ownership of the school's strategies to produce that learning. Louis, Kruse and Marks concluded that professional community includes five key dimensions of school culture: shared norms and values; a focus on student learning (which we identify as the important focus of school-based management); reflective dialogue about curriculum and instructional practices; deprivatization of practice; and collaboration. The actions of a professional community are accomplished through collaborative effort, largely through the network of teacher decision-making and work teams described earlier, the specific structures of which can vary by school.

6. Create a well developed system for sharing school-related information with a broad range of school constituents.
It should be clear that access to good information, particularly knowledge about best practices, is critical to making conversations among teachers collaborating in professional communities substantive and useful. In order to improve a school's instructional program, collegial discussions must analyze specific problems and issues in light of the best professional knowledge available, otherwise discussions may lack either substance or import. A rich information system that includes data on best practices and other elements of the professional knowledge base of curriculum and instruction, and is accessible through computer technologies, can help insure that when such professional conversations occur they are based on knowledge and craft, not opinion or ideology. Providing schools that information is critically important to creating school based management initiatives that work. Indeed, the economic literature on high performing organizations concludes that providing a comprehensive array of information to service delivery and management teams is one of five key elements of creating organizations that are successful in accomplishing their goals. The CPRE school-based management study found that the most successful SBM programs were those that, through various mechanisms, had provided a vast array of information to teachers at individual schools. Moreover, the study found that the most advanced programs automated and made this information system interactive through some type of relational data base, similar to many "intra-net" systems that now are emerging in the private and non-profit sectors.

7. Develop ways to reward staff behavior that helps achieve school objectives and, we would add, sanction those that do not.
Accountability is another key ingredient of successful decentralized school management. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of most efforts at school based management has been the lack of any accountability system. But accountability matters, and unless decentralized school management is held accountable for results, the probability that it will substantially improve performance is low. Nearly all recent studies of school-based management and school restructuring concluded that accountability was important. Consequences for the results of school actions help focus the purpose of decentralization and restructuring on student performance results and stimulate the reflection on practice and its impacts that are characteristic of a professional community and that are needed to improve practice. Consequences include both rewards for succeeding, i.e., meeting improvement targets, and sanctions for consistently not succeeding. One reason that rewards and sanctions are effective is that they communicate that results are important and thus reinforce a school's focus on the core and most valued results, i.e., those in the performance measure (which in most cases is student achievement in academic subjects). Both rewards and sanctions garner educators' attention and focus that attention on what the system has identified as the priority results. Further, rewards and sanctions seem to be more successful when used in tandem (the promise of a positive consequence for succeeding and the promise of a negative consequence for not). These behavioral effects could well be more important than the money bonuses that accompany some programs.

8. Select principals who can facilitate and manage change.
Decentralized school management also requires a new breed of principals. Effective school restructuring needs strong and expert leadership but not domineering leadership. School-based restructuring to higher performance visions is aided by principals who can administer the broader managerial roles that accompany more school self-management, can facilitate the work of teachers in a school's set of decision-making and work teams, and can manage a change process. Nearly all studies of school-based change find new and different, as well as more challenging, roles and functions for principals. School-based management and restructuring require principals with a new set of skills and competencies rarely included in current principal training programs. Thus, districts often need to change the standards for their principal recruitment mechanisms as well as design training programs to "grow" their own principals, many of whom may be teachers who have performed leadership and coordination roles in site-based managed schools.

9. Provide schools control over the budget and the power to reallocate current resources to more productive uses.
Finally, all recent studies conclude that school control over the budget was a key element of successful school-based management and restructuring. Control over the budget is a core ingredient of decentralized management. This is true in other organizations and increasingly is a more explicit finding in education as well. Control over the budget is crucial. It turns out that many of the new, high performance school visions that are part of the nearly two dozen school reform networks are staffed and structured very differently from most schools in America. They have more classroom teachers and fewer non-classroom specialists. They spend more on professional development. They group students and teachers differently, often across age levels and for multiple years. Many have full time instructional facilitator roles rather than discipline oriented assistant principals. Many also have more computer technologies. In sum, they use money differently. Further, in most localities, these new uses of resources can be financed with dollars already in the system. But in order to have schools reallocate existing resources to these new -- and hopefully more productive -- uses, schools need control over their budget.

The material in this section was excerpted from Chapter 2 of Odden, Allan & Carolyn Busch. Funding Schools for High Performance Management: Strategies for Improving the Use of School Resources . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (1998).