ERIC Identifier: ED336845
Publication Date: 1991-10-00
Author: Peterson, David
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
School-Based Management and Student Performance. ERIC Digest,
School-based management is one of several reforms proposed and instituted
over the past decade to improve public education. Its "ultimate goal," as White
(1989) points out, "is to improve the teaching and learning environment for
students." This ERIC Digest will address how school-based management has
affected student performance. Since research on this topic is extremely limited,
this Digest's conclusions are necessarily tentative.
WHAT IS SCHOOL-BASED MANAGEMENT?
(SBM) programs decentralize districts' decisions by locating them in the
schools. Shareholders normally include teachers and principals; some SBM
programs reach out as well to parents, students, and other community members.
In some districts, principals appropriate almost all the power allocated to
schools, and superintendents and school boards often retain almost all of their
authority. Teacher-dominated committees may act only in consultative capacities.
Other systems give much more power to staff and community members. In Akron,
Ohio, Central-Hower High School features a nine-member faculty senate in which
the principal has only one vote and no veto power (Strauber and others 1990).
Chicago's local school councils are dominated by parents and have particularly
broad powers, including the ability to hire and fire principals and to approve
school budgets and plans (Ogletree and McHenry 1990). Usually, such committees
are dominated by teachers, and their powers are apt to be less sweeping. Common
responsibilities include control over minor aspects of school finance and
school-level planning and policy making.
HOW MIGHT SBM IMPROVE STUDENT PERFORMANCE?
school-based management argue that student performance is likely to improve when
educational management is centered in the school rather than the district.
Teachers and principals, they argue, are apt to be more sensitive to the needs
of particular schools and students than are central-office administrators.
Furthermore, as David (1989) points out, even sound educational reforms may
falter if the teachers expected to implement them have not participated in
SBM's advocates say it has many advantages over decentralized
decision-making. Among the purported benefits are creating new sources of
leadership, establishing accountability, and aligning budgetary and
instructional priorities. White argues that shared decision-making improves
staff morale and communication, certainly two critical variables in teacher
performance and, indirectly, student performance. SBM may even, she asserts,
"help to attract and retain quality staff."
HAS SBM SUCCEEDED IN RAISING STUDENT
Establishing a relationship between school-based management and
student performance is problematic. In the first place, as Malen and her
colleagues (1990 a and b) point out, very little quantitative research has been
done on the topic. They also argue that factors other than SBM might account for
any gains in student achievement made after instituting the reform. These
research problems are exacerbated by the absence of a standard definition of
SBM. Studies do not always indicate to what degree schools have redistributed
Malen and her colleagues (1990a), after reviewing nearly 200 documents,
assert that "site-based management in most instances does not achieve its stated
objectives." They point out that gains in achievement scores appear "in only a
small number of select pilot schools over a short period of time."
The results of SBM in city schools are mixed. A large, urban Maryland school
district recorded significant and widespread improvements in test scores,
particularly among Afro- Americans, after instituting a five-step reform plan
that included SBM (Murphy 1990). But Peterson (1991) reports that test scores
for Dade County, Florida's, innercity schools significantly declined after three
years of school-based management.
Although improved test scores may provide direct evidence of SBM's ability to
enhance student performance, considerable indirect evidence also exists. For
example, Brown's (1987) case study of two Canadian school districts suggests
that decentralized decision-making creates a more effective educational
environment. One school's faculty decided to reduce its use of copy machines so
that it could hire an additional aide. The schools' annual reviews show that
junior and senior high students' satisfaction increased in most areas after the
reform began. The students indicated improvements in such key areas as
usefulness and effectiveness of courses and the schools' emphasis on basic
Rosenholtz (1985) notes that collective decision-making has "led to increased
teacher clarity about instructional purpose and method and, in the end, to
increased instructional effectiveness." Indeed, research indicates that SBM
improves teacher satisfaction, particularly when teachers have substantive
rather than advisory roles (David). In Dade County, Florida, Peterson attributes
a more collegial environment among teachers and fewer student suspensions to
three years of SBM.
However, Ogletree and McHenry's Chicago survey suggests that SBM is not
always popular among teachers. Three-quarters of their 100 respondents said that
Chicago's decentralized school reforms had failed to bring improvements in
student achievement, and an even greater proportion denied that the changes had
improved teacher morale.
In sum, research as a whole does not indicate that site-based management
brings consistent or stable improvements in student performance.
WHY HAS SBM NOT HAD A MORE DRAMATIC EFFECT ON STUDENT
Malen and her associates (1990a) indicate that many of
school-based management's shortcomings are attributable to piecemeal
implementation. School councils are commonly controlled by principals, with
other participants assuming familiar and passive roles: "the traditional pattern
wherein administrators make policy, teachers instruct, and parents provide
support is maintained." These "deeply ingrained norms" are difficult to
overcome. When council members are poorly trained, they are often confused and
anxious about their new responsibilities. However, well-prepared participants
are better able to identify duties that are time consuming and impractical.
Indeed, SBM teams often concentrate on schools' tertiary rather than
instructional activities. Malen and her colleagues (1990a) note that the
councils tend to center on activities such as student recognition and discipline
rather than instruction and curriculum. Likewise, Brown indicates that SBM leads
some principals to become increasingly interested in technical matters at the
expense of curricular concerns.
Yet the neglect of classroom instruction is not inherent to SBM. SBM teams
cannot be faulted for failing to increase student performance if they are not
given the authority to address that task. In Chicago, for example, authority
over education has been delegated largely to parents and other community
members, not to school-based personnel. Additionally, it is unfair to expect any
school reform to have an effect in urban areas wracked by violence, crime, and
HOW MIGHT SBM ENHANCE STUDENT PERFORMANCE?
management cannot be judged a failure until it has had a fair trial. Many
programs do not concentrate on educational achievement, and many are a variation
of traditional hierarchical models rather than an actual restructuring of
decision-making power. David argues that districts that actually delegate
substantial authority to schools tend to have leaders who support
experimentation and who empower others. She and others indicate that successful
reform also requires strong communication networks, a financial commitment to
professional growth and training,and backing from all components of the school
community (see also White; Gomez 1989).
Hill and Bonan (1991) emphasize that school-based management is a truly
radical reform, one that shifts power and accountability from managers to the
managed, from the central office to the school. They also argue that teachers
Must be prepared to assume responsibility as well as power, that they must take
the initiative in school improvement under SBM, and that they must be held
publicly accountable for their performance.
Peterson goes so far as to suggest that 10 percent of teacher and principal
performance be based on students' academic performance. With such high stakes in
SBM's success, a district that lightly or provisionally undertakes such a shift
in decision-making has little chance of success.
Relatively few districts seem prepared to make such widespread changes in
school operations. But more cautious attempts at SBM may not result in much
power actually changing hands, and halfway measures do not seem to result in
substantially improved student achievement.
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