Intro: The Balance of Power

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In part two of our special series, From Risk to Renewal: Charting a Course for Reform,'' Education Week will examine seven key areas where change must occur if reform is to succeed. In this article, we explore the balance of power within schools and districts and the efforts to shift authority so that those at the school site are empowered and encouraged to use their resources in behalf of greater learning for students.

At 6:30 on a cold winter evening, nine people sit down at pushed-together tables in a carpeted community room at Thomas Jefferson High School. For the next two hours, this diverse group--the school principal, three teachers, a counselor, two parents, a businessperson, and a student--will hash out a plan for their school's budget.

A short time ago, such input would have been the principal's alone to give. Now, in schools throughout this city, Denver residents gather routinely to share in such judgments.

Since 1991, when Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado gave sweeping authority over educational decisions to committees in each of Denver's 112 schools, the balance of power in the city's schools has shifted.

The Governor's resolve to create the committees reflects a growing national sentiment that one key to improving schools lies in harnessing the energy and ideas of the people who work in them, pay taxes to support them, and send their children to learn in them.

"I want everybody to look down the street,'' Governor Romer said at the time, "and see that school building and say, 'That's ours. We are responsible for it.' ''

Indeed, the twin ideas of giving greater decisionmaking authority to individual schools (often known as site-based management) and dispersing it more widely within schools (commonly known as shared or collaborative decisionmaking) have become two of the most widely adopted reform tools of the 1980's and 90's.

The strategies have been endorsed by such varied groups as the National Governors' Association, the Business Roundtable, and the National Education Association.

At least four states--Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Texas--have mandated some form of participatory decisionmaking at every school.

And hundreds of districts in other states claim to be engaged in the process.

But the initial burst of enthusiasm--during which such large urban school systems as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Rochester, N.Y., waded into site-based management--has given way to an intensive re-evaluation of its efficacy.

Many agree that it has provided a vehicle for greater parent and community involvement in schools, and that teacher morale has improved in those districts that have adopted the strategies.

In general, though, they haven't resulted in the kinds of dramatic gains in student achievement or in the innovations in classroom practices that their advocates had hoped.

And while some argue it is simply a matter of time before such changes occur, others question whether there is any necessary link between changes in governance and deeper changes in teaching and learning.

Too often, site-based councils have gotten mired in trivia and in the mechanics of making decisions. Many districts have failed to create a framework in which school-based management can thrive. And frequently, little, if any, authority has actually been delegated to the school site.

"It's real hard to find locations where, for the lack of a better term, the reality meets the rhetoric,'' observes Betty Malen, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington.

Creating a 'Greater Commitment' to the Overall Enterprise

The rationale behind school-based management is that, by empowering those at the school to make decisions, teachers and others will be better able to meet the needs of their students and will gain greater ownership of proposed school improvements.

In addition, if schools are to be held accountable for student performance, it seems only fair that they be given the resources and the responsibility to determine how they operate.

The idea first took hold because it was also felt that schools--like businesses--had become dominated by top-heavy, top-down management and had overlooked the expertise of their front-line workers.

Research from the private sector suggested that companies that adopted formal worker-participation schemes, at least in the short run, experienced improvements in worker satisfaction, commitment, quality, or productivity, and saw decreases in their worker-turnover and -absenteeism rates. In almost no cases did the programs make things worse.

More than a decade of research on effective schools also suggested the importance of allowing schools to set their own goals and develop their own cultures.

"When a process makes people feel that they have a voice in matters that affect them, they will have a greater commitment to the overall enterprise and will take greater responsibility for what happens to the enterprise,'' Seymour B. Sarason argues in his book The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change Course Before It's Too Late?

"[T]he absence of such a process,'' he continues, "insures that no one feels responsible, that blame will always be directed externally, that adversarialism will be a notable feature of school life.''

'Everywhere, But Nowhere'

But these days, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what "school-based management'' means or where it exists.

As Priscilla Wohlstetter, the director of the school-based-management project for the Consortium for Policy Research in Education notes, "School-based management is everywhere, but nowhere.''

Districts vary greatly in the kinds and number of decisions that are turned over to schools, whether such decisions are final or merely advisory, and in how many schools participate.

There is also wide variation in who makes the decisions within schools and the process that they use for doing so.

"My sense is that the term became, in some circles, a slogan,'' Ms. Malen says. "When you'd try to track what, if any, policy changes were formally adopted in a district, it was hard to track them.''

Such diversity has also made it difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate school-based management's effectiveness.

Research Findings Mixed

Early findings from case studies of individual districts and from larger national and regional surveys have found decidedly mixed results.

A study of the Jefferson County, Ky., public schools and its professional-development academy, released this winter, found that students in schools committed to sustained and comprehensive reform were more likely to show consistent improvements from year to year than those in schools that moved from one reform to another or saw no need to innovate.

Among other things, the study found that the more successful schools had principals who "truly believe'' in the need to change and in the role of participatory management in bringing it about.

A survey released last month in Chicago--where substantial power for making decisions has been turned over to local school councils--found that the percentage of principals, teachers, parents, and community representatives who felt that their school had improved since the councils were established in 1989 has increased markedly.

Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a Chicago-based citizens' advocacy group, says that some 300 of the city's 540 schools are "either cooking or making significant change.'' But in about 30 or 40 others, he says, conflicts between individuals have rendered the councils ineffective.

A 1991 evaluation of school-based management in Dade County, Fla., one of the first big urban districts to adopt the strategy as a primary reform tool, concluded that "teacher status'' had definitely improved. There was more collegial decisionmaking at the school site. And Gerald Dreyfuss, then the assistant superintendent for school-based management and now the principal of Arvida Middle School, reported that applications for teacher openings in the district had quadrupled since the program began in 1986-87.

Other districts report changes in at least some schools that could eventually lead to improved student learning. In New York City, an early evaluation of 12 schools found that they had introduced such innovative measures as team teaching and a greater voice for teachers in textbook selection and development.

In Denver, several schools have adopted performance-based assessments in place of standardized tests--a "significant change'' that some teachers have wanted for years, says Judie Mitchell, a 1st-grade teacher at Greenlee Metro Lab School.

Link to Teaching and Learning

In general, however, the relationship between school-based management and changes in the classroom, including gains in student performance, is tenuous at best.

"There's little necessary connection between school-based management and improving teaching and learning,'' argues Susan H. Fuhrman, the director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. "There are a lot of intervening factors.''

The evaluation in Dade County found no significant change in standardized-test scores over the period of the pilot program. A similar evaluation in San Diego found "inconsistent results.'' And a study in Los Angeles found that the first year of shared decisionmaking "did not generally result in major changes at the schools we studied.''

Of course, standardized-test scores may be particularly inappropriate for measuring the kinds of educational innovations that school-based management is meant to foster--such as greater problem-solving skills and the ability to work in groups.

Such test scores also ignore many of the other benefits that collaborative decisionmaking might reap, like higher staff morale and a better school climate.

More disturbing in the minds of many is the fact that the ingrained relationships among parents, teachers, and principals within many schools participating in collaborative decisionmaking appear to be unshaken. Principals tend to take the lead role, parents play a supporting one, and many teachers remain hesitant to question established practices.

More rarely still has school-based management made any inroads into changing the authoritarian relationship in the classroom between teachers and students.

But, as Mr. Sarason warns, "To alter the power status of teachers and parents, however necessary and desirable (and problematic), without altering power relationships in the classroom, is to limit drastically the chances of improving educational outcomes.''

Simply changing the participants in the decisionmaking process, he suggests, won't necessarily "improve the quality, innovativeness, or creativity of educational decisions.''

School-Based Management: What's the Point?

One problem is that many districts embarked on site-based management without defining what was expected of the councils or linking the management strategy to the district's long-range plans for improving student learning.

"School-based management for what sort of gets lost in the conversations,'' Ms. Wohlstetter of CPRE says.

Observers here in Denver charge that, because Governor Romer mandated the school-governance changes, the central administration has dragged its feet in implementing collaborative decisionmaking. No formal goals have been established for it, for example, and there are no plans to evaluate its effectiveness.

"The district has not embraced collaborative decisionmaking as a primary reform strategy,'' charges Adele Phelan, the chairwoman of Citizens for Quality Schools, an advocacy group supporting the reform.

A report by the group on the first year of the process noted that many council members perceived the administration as reluctant to relinquish power to individual schools, and that progress toward tangible results had been sluggish.

"The district has major goals for achievement and attendance,'' observes Michael Murphy, a professor of educational administration at the University of Colorado at Denver. "If they had coupled this reform to those and said, 'That's the focus, and we're going to check on how well you do it,' it would have been very different.''

In contrast, Superintendent Evie Dennis claims that the district is supportive of school-based management, but that changes in the bureaucratic culture will take time. The district has a court-ordered desegregation plan, she notes, and the councils must work under other mandates as well.

According to the superintendent, the district's priority is longstanding: to graduate more children who possess more skills. Like many of her colleagues nationwide, she cautions that, if collaborative-decisionmaking councils "don't translate into that, then I don't know if they are of any value.''

'Hung Up on Governance'

Part of the confusion is that proponents of school-based management are really advocating two reforms at once: one of the governance of schools and districts, and one of the teaching and learning process itself.

But many districts that embarked on school-based management put more energy into deciding who would be on the councils and how they would make decisions than in creating a vision for reinvigorating schools or in providing schools with the support needed to do so.

"When you stop short of process, we've got nothing,'' says Patrick O'Rourke, the president of the Hammond (Ind.) Federation of Teachers. The Hammond schools adopted school-based management as a reform tool in the early 1980's.

"When you spend a lot of time putting in place a new method of governance,'' he adds, "you get hung up on the governance question.''

In Denver, many school councils that have made progress have done so in such relatively noncontroversial areas as school attendance, discipline, and tardiness policies. The same is true for schools in other districts.

Ann Lieberman, the co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, says school councils "start with real grubby issues.''

"They don't do highfalutin things like everybody wants,'' she adds.

Gary Martyn, a media technician and a member of the decisionmaking committee at George Washington High School in Denver, says, "You get bogged down in micromanagement: The bathrooms are dirty, the lights are out somewhere, the intercom doesn't work.''

Similiar minutiae have frustrated members of the committee at North High School, also in Denver.

"When we started, our concerns were that, up in the second-floor men's restroom, there's not enough toilet paper,'' recalls Fidel (Butch) Montoya, a parent member of the council, "or that room 102 is 108 degrees. That's not the responsibility of [the council]. Our goals are student achievement and expectations for students and teachers. But it took months to reach that point.''

A 'Brokering of Power'

Uncertainty surrounding the goals of school-based management has allowed politics--and who wins and who loses in the struggle for power--to dominate the shift to collaborative decisionmaking.

"When we first started out,'' observes Loretta Johnson, the assistant superintendent in Rochester, N.Y., "the shared decisionmaking and collaboration, for some teams, appeared to be just a new brokering of power, and they played it out like that. And they lost sight of the reason these things were put into place: to improve instruction for kids.''

In Los Angeles and Dade County, for example, principals voted to become unionized after school-based management gave teachers an increased voice in setting school policy.

And a report by the RAND Corporation asserts that, in adopting school-based management, most districts "transfer the politics of interest-group bargaining from the school district to the school building.''

Even Citizens for Quality Schools in Denver acknowledges the difficulty in reaching consensus among diverse groups. "It is hard to find a shared vision--about anything--among a group of people purposefully elected to represent different interests,'' the group says.

Only Limited Authority Has Shifted to Schools

In many districts that profess to be engaged in site-based management, little real authority has been shifted to the schools.

At a minimum, site-based management implies giving schools control over how they spend their money, who works in their buildings, and how instruction is delivered.

But studies have found that districts often relinquish authority over one area and not others. They are likely to give schools power over their budgets first, their personnel second, and their curricula last.

Frequently, schoolpeople are confused about what power they actually possess because it's not spelled out. And in practice, labor agreements, court orders, categorical programs, and district tradition combine to mute schools' authority over their operations.

Many districts enable schools that want to deviate from established practices to secure waivers both from the school board and the teachers' union. But the process for doing so, Ms. Malen of the University of Washington observes, puts the "burden of proof'' on the schools and can be cumbersome.

Meanwhile, the hierarchical structure that exists above the schools changes little.

'Mixed Messages'

In Denver, the teaching contract appears to be quite specific in terms of the power that schools have.

The school board keeps reponsibility for finance, curriculum goals and evaluation, the school calendar, bargaining, desegregation, construction, and maintenance.

Schools manage their budgets, select teachers and principals, and organize the content of their courses and programs. They also have complete freedom to organize and assign staff members' time--including the amount of instructional time, preparation time, lunch time, student-contact time, the number and length of classes, and the frequency of meetings with parents.

Nevertheless, ambiguity remains.

"These are not mini-school boards,'' Superintendent Dennis says. "This is not Chicago.''

Shortly after the contract was signed, she recalls, a principal called her to ask if his school could eliminate its bilingual-education program. "I had to say, 'You can't do that,' '' she says. " 'That's a court order.' ''

For their part, schools complain that the central office has been reluctant to loosen its controls. A number of schools that needed to hire principals last year were sent only three or four people to interview, instead of being given access to the district's entire list of job candidates.

According to the Center for Quality Schools, some councils have been reluctant to exercise their authority because of "mixed messages'' from the central office.

Even with the latitude enjoyed by the Denver councils, many haven't made substantive changes in instruction--such as in the use of time within the school building.

More Training and Access to Information Needed

The intensive, ongoing training needed to make school-based management work has also been largely absent.

Members of a school council need to understand the technical issues, such as budgeting, that will enable them to contribute to the school. And they need help with the personal and group skills required for collective decisionmaking, such as the ability to resolve conflicts.

Carol H. Weiss, Joseph Cambone, and Alexander Wyeth, all researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, note that shared decisionmaking requires teachers to confront their colleagues and other adults face to face to resolve important issues that aren't directly linked with their classrooms. Sticky issues can arise, such as what to do about a colleague's poor performance, that threaten teachers' relationships with one another.

"Very little in their background or training has prepared [teachers] for this kind of democratic politics,'' the researchers argue. Teachers "have been socialized for so long to compliance with orders from above (leavened with sub rosa griping) that they do not have the mental set to participate and take responsibility.''

School councils--and, particularly, teachers--also need help in understanding the issues involved in curriculum and instruction and some of the alternatives for restructuring their schools. And teachers need training in new pedagogical techniques and in their subject matter.

In Denver, Ms. Phelan of the advocacy group Citizens for Quality Schools says, "even though [school councils] have the authority, if you haven't been able to establish a vision for a school, you don't know what to do. Schools need a lot of help in understanding the menu of possibilities.''

Frequently, however, districts lack the time, money, or commitment to provide enough training to set school-based councils firmly on their feet.

Some states that have mandated school-based management have also failed to provide money for training.

In Denver, the teaching contract mandated that a board of directors be created to offer training programs for members of the collaborative-decisionmaking teams. Initial training was provided to all 1,500 council members, and ongoing training and support is also being offered.

But some committee members say the needs are so vast that far more assistance is needed.

"There does not appear to be a wide range of dispute-resolution skills inside a high school,'' says Wyatt McCallie, the business representative on the team from Thomas Jefferson High. "I get the impression that there is not a great reservoir of skills and techniques that can be used to resolve things, like brainstorming.''

'Complete Absence of Data'

To make good decisions, schools also need access to information, including budgetary data and feedback on student performance.

But such information isn't always available--in part, because districts aren't used to providing it. Information in hierarchically structured school systems most commonly flows upward, not vice versa.

In Denver, councils were asked to make recommendations about cutting their budgets. But there was a problem, Mr. Martyn at George Washington High School says. "We got a list of services [provided by the central administration], but no dollar amounts and no numbers of people,'' he recalls.

And when he called the central office for an organizational chart of the district, "They seemed mystified. They had a generic one, but no names and numbers.''

"There's a complete absence of data in the school community about what it really costs for these programs,'' complains Mr. McCallie, the businessman on the committee at Thomas Jefferson High.

School-based councils also appear hungry for information on ways to evaluate their own progress and for indications that they are doing what they should.

A Lack of Rewards for Time-Consuming Efforts

But perhaps the biggest complaint by teachers and others is the amount of time that shared decisionmaking takes--and the lack of rewards for their efforts.

Such criticisms stand in stark contrast to successful worker-participation schemes in business, note Susan Albers Mohrman, the deputy director of CPRE's school-based-management project, and Rodney T. Ogawa, an associate professor of educational administration at the University of California-Riverside.

"Performance-based rewards are considered by many in the private sector to be a key element of high-involvement management,'' they point out. In some cases, individuals are paid more as they gain skills that are needed by the organization. In other instances, entire units are rewarded for improvements in productivity and performance.

"In the long run,'' David T. Levine and George Strauss write in a review of employee-participation schemes in the business community, "psychic benefits are not enough. Workers see themselves doing supervisors' work without supervisors' pay. Further, if participation contributes to increased profits, employees want to share the benefits.''

The Denver contract set aside $100,000 for an annual incentive program. But schoolpeople say the criteria for success are unclear. Marrama Elementary School won $2,000 for its efforts, but members of its council weren't sure why.

"It wasn't necessarily the best schools that got awards,'' Rae Garrett, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers' Association, says.

Finding a 'Happy Medium'

For teachers and others, the intrinsic benefits of serving on the committees may be at least as important as any monetary rewards. But even here, the slow progress that many councils are making has proved frustrating.

Because of the time involved, collaborative decisionmaking "has taken some time to adjust to,'' says David Strodtman, the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School. "It takes so much longer to do things.''

"We have all these great plans, and we meet forever and ever, and we never do anything about it; we never follow through,'' laments Audra Sandoval, a senior at North High School in Denver who serves on her school's committee. Although the North High council set up an advocacy program to pair incoming freshmen with groups of teachers, she says, the program is "in limbo.''

Other participants on site-based councils in Denver and elsewhere say the amount of time and energy they have expended may eventually cause them to drop off their committees.

During the first year of collaborative decisionmaking in Denver, according to the Center for Quality Schools, there were resignations from every category of council membership except principals. The turnover was especially high among business representatives, 25 percent of whom quit.

"I want to have a say, but I don't want to have to do the work,'' Bernie Lopez, a teacher at Rishel Middle School, says. "It's affecting my teaching negatively. There's got to be a happy medium so that we can do a good job making decisions and in the classroom and have a life outside.''

Warren Wheeler, a history teacher at North High School, complains, "It's messing up my family life. We meet every week. I'm going to have to resign.''

Exhaustion Creates a 'Pullback'

Some school councils have simply imploded under the strain of politics and time pressures.

In Rochester, for example, former Superintendent Peter McWalters placed Franklin High School in receivership and replaced its principal and some of its staff members after a site-based council was unable to reach consensus about how to make improvements at the school.

And at the Rosemary Hills School in Montgomery County, Md., teachers voted to withdraw from a shared-decision-making experiment after they concluded "there was a lot of work put into something that accomplished very little,'' Principal Linda Weber says.

But the more common pattern identified by researchers is a gradual diminishment in participation and a growing level of cynicism over time.

"The exhaustion will create a pullback,'' Ms. Malen says. "Not in the sense that they announce they're not doing it anymore, but in the sense that it becomes a much more routine kind of matter that is quite different from how the concept was cast. They meet less often or not at all.''

'Unrealistic Promises' and 'Unbelievable Expectations'

In retrospect, reformers may have overestimated what school-based management by itself could accomplish and underestimated the amount of change needed elsewhere in the system to make it work.

Union leaders, in particular, seized on shared decisionmaking as a way to empower teachers and establish their unions' role in education policymaking, only to be brought up short when it began to threaten some of their most sacrosanct protections, such as teacher tenure and transfer rights.

"People put unbelievable expectations on school-based management/shared decisionmaking,'' concludes Pat Tornillo, the executive vice president of the United Teachers of Dade. "They expected us to turn the world around overnight. That isn't the way it works.''

"There were so many ambitious and, in my judgment, unrealistic promises attached to school-based management,'' Ms. Malen says.

Similar Problems in Business

Of course, many of these problems aren't unique to schools. The same issues that have plagued the implementation of site-based management in education are true of business as well.

In their study, Mr. Levine and Mr. Strauss note that not all employees want the added responsibilities or enriched jobs that participation provides. Many would prefer their secure routines to remain unchanged. Participants' input may be confined to matters of only modest importance, such as the color of walls or the food in the cafeteria. And the democratic atmosphere of the participative group may be so inconsistent with ordinary managerial practices that workers suspect management of hypocrisy and insincerity.

As in education, the authors also note that first-line supervisors (principals, in the case of education) often feel discriminated against.

"They are forced into a system that typically they had no part in designing,'' they write. "They are forced to share their own power, but don't see their bosses sharing theirs. In some cases, they see guaranteed job security for employees, but not for themselves.''

Finally, they observe, saving management money, rather than making workers happy, has been the major purpose of many shared-decisionmaking schemes.

Choosing What to Cut

The advent of shared decisionmaking in education has also coincided with a time of huge budget shortfalls, leaving many teachers suspicious of its motives and despairing about the prospects for improvement.

"Faculties are not wrestling with issues of renovation, but wrestling with issues of retrenchment,'' complains Edward J. Doherty, the president of the Boston Teachers Union. "And they were not excited about spending long hours together deciding what to cut out of their schools.''

In Denver, collaborative decisionmaking has coincided with one of the worst budget crises in the district's history: The school system faces a shortfall of up to $46 million for the 1993-94 school year.

Last year, the decisionmaking committee at the Greenlee Metro Lab School in Denver was forced to cut an instrumental-music position. "Before our principal or downtown would say, 'This is what you've got, and live with it,' '' says Ms. Mitchell, the co-chairwoman of the committee. "But some of those decisions, I would rather not have up to me.''

A 'New System' Needed

Indeed, advocates of school-based management are realizing that, unless it is linked to reforms elsewhere in the system, substantial results are unlikely.

"We're convinced school-based management in and of itself does not lead anywhere,'' concludes Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Outside of a system of curriculum frameworks and assessments and incentives, and a whole bunch of things like that to tell school-based managers what to do ... school-based management is just another level of governance, and, potentially, another level of bureaucracy.''

For many school systems, the adoption of school-based management means major changes in organizational structure, management style, and the allocation of power and resources, Karin M. Lindquist and John J. Mauriel of the University of Minnesota wrote in a 1989 paper.

There is also a need for new accountability systems, and a serious renegotiation of the respective governance roles and authority of the school board, the teachers' union, the central office, and the community stakeholders, they state.

"If these global changes are not made,'' they argue, "school-based management will be just another moderately helpful public-relations and communications vehicle tinkering with the peripheral issues of school governance and management.''

But right now, too many plans appear to be grafted onto systems and schools that remain fundamentally unchanged.

In Denver, says Sue Wilson, a parent at the Knight Fundamental Academy: "Site-based management is an innovation, yet it is trying to fit into an administration and a school board that were made 92 years ago. It doesn't fit together. ... We need to look at a new system.''

There's No Going Back: 'The Genie Is Out of the Bottle'

Despite all of the concerns about site-based management, however, few think that the idea of providing schools and the people who work in them with greater authority over their professional lives should be abandoned.

"There is a broad cultural change in what's going on in the American workplace, and it does not exclude the schools,'' contends Samuel B. Bacharach, a professor of organizational behavior and educational administration at Cornell University. "It can't be right for everything but the schools.''

The same sentiment is voiced by those in Denver. "This is something that parents here had been looking forward to for a long time,'' says Kathy Marci, a parent who serves on the Thomas Jefferson High committee, "so that we would have a bigger role in making some decisions.''

"This has given us a say in our autocratic government,'' agrees Adam Mordecai, a junior who is a member of the Thomas Jefferson High committee.

"The genie is out of the bottle,'' Mr. Murphy of the University of Colorado says. "It would be hard for the district or the union to stuff it back in the bottle again. Whether it will ultimately make a difference remains to be seen.''

Part of a Broader Strategy

The issue now is how to make school-based management work--how to provide the conditions that would give it a fighting chance.

Most important, experts suggest, school-based management should be part of a broader systemic strategy for improving teaching and learning.

"In architecture, they say that form derives from function, and we violated that with site-based decisionmaking,'' argues Doug Tuthill, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers' Association in Pinellas County, Fla. "What we didn't do is first develop a common vision of student learning and then talk about changing the focus of decisionmaking based on that vision.''

Some experts believe that districts should provide schools with guidance, perhaps in the form of a list of national organizations and groups involved in school restructuring with which they could work.

Many people are also calling for a clearer devolution of authority to the school site that, in many ways, goes beyond what was initially advocated.

The most effective school-based-management programs, according to CPRE, would be ones where schools are given lump-sum budgets to allocate according to local needs and the authority to hire and fire school staff members.

States, CPRE suggests, could devise a timeline for transferring budget and personnel authority to school sites and require full transfer by some date. Local districts could exercise oversight over outcomes rather than process and redefine the role of the central office as supportive rather than compliance-oriented.

The growing interest in "charter schools'' as a new means for providing public education highlights the frustration with the current regulatory climate in which schools operate.

Under such arrangements, groups of teachers and others can form independent public schools under contracts with local school boards. As long as they meet the outcome standards specified in the contracts, the schools retain control over their budgets, hiring, and curriculum.

Advocates in Boston, Detroit, and other big cities are also arguing that the traditional relationship between the schools and the central administration be reversed and that schools be allowed to purchase services from the central administration--or elsewhere--rather than be forced to take what's given.

In both Chicago and Edmonton, Alberta, for example, schools can purchase staff-development services from experts outside the district.

Experts have also highlighted the critical role of the superintendent and the central office in supporting the shift to school-based management and in changing their own responsibilities from insuring compliance to creating the incentives for reform.

A 'Faulty Model'?

Once authority is delegated to the school site, its distribution within the school needs to be re-evaluated.

Some now suggest that school-based management pays too little attention to the key role of the principal and puts in place too unwieldy a decisionmaking structure.

They even question whether group empowerment is the most effective means of running a school. A few districts, such as Edmonton and Prince William County, Va., have empowered principals, rather than committees, under site-based management.

"We may have a faulty model here, where we've confused management responsibility for a school with the core work, which is teaching, curriculum, and instruction,'' says Jane David, the director of the Bay Area Research Group and an expert on school-based management.

"A school-site council is a very appropriate group--with parent and teacher and administrative representation--for the management of the school and, perhaps, for decisions about allocating resources within the school,'' she adds. "But the actual work of making decisions about schedules regarding teaching and learning and materials and curriculum rightly belongs, I suspect, to a work team of teachers.''

In Chicago, the law assigns three key policy decisions to the local school councils--the selection of the principal, the development of a school-improvement plan, and the allocation of the school's budget--but places day-to-day operations firmly in the hands of the principal, who can be fired by the council if he doesn't do his job.

In fact, educators may need to create different kinds of decisionmaking structures in schools that are more closely tied to the core work of teaching and learning.

Again, CPRE suggests that teams of teachers, defined by grade level or academic department, could be given the authority to make resource tradeoffs and to manage the way they perform their jobs. A second option would be to create schools within schools, or "houses,'' where teams of teachers would have greater control over how their time, resources, and instruction are managed.

Invest in Training

Third, as districts move to site-based management, more attention and effort must be invested in training both for those at the school site and for central-office personnel.

Over a five-year period, CPRE advocates, states should set aside 2 percent to 3 percent of their total education revenues for professional development, a sum that is more in line with the training budgets at the most productive private companies.

Paul Hill, a senior social scientist with RAND, suggests that schools be given total control over their training budgets so they can buy services as needed.

Others suggest that outside facilitators be used to help teams learn to relate to one another and to connect with training opportunities.

Franklin High School in Rochester, for example, now has a facilitator from the Eastman Kodak Company. And Mr. Hill notes that districts can create their own cadres of facilitators from the ranks of both union and management to quietly intervene in schools before problems become severe.

Better Information Systems

As part of site-based management, school districts are also beginning to provide sites with the information needed to develop school-improvement plans.

Again, CPRE suggests that states could develop a prototype information system of budgetary, student, teacher, and outcomes data that includes all the key elements needed to engage in site-based decisionmaking. States could also devote resources to disseminating information about educational innovations throughout the state. And districts or consortia of districts could design the computer systems needed to make such information readily available to schools.

The point is for schools to understand their weaknesses and be able to act on them. For example, Mr. Hill says, if a school is given information showing it has a weak reading program, it could decide to double the amount of time devoted to the subject.

Within schools, better strategies are needed to share information at the site among all parties.

Creating Incentives

But one of the stickiest topics for schools remains the system of incentives and rewards that will make it worthwhile for teachers, in particular, to come out of their classrooms and engage in creating schoolwide improvements.

States, CPRE suggests, could develop model pay systems that reward groups based on their performance. Districts, in turn, could pilot the new pay systems, for which they could waive personnel regulations, including union contracts.

In addition to monetary rewards, CPRE suggests rewarding teachers with sabbaticals, prestigious mentor positions, and opportunities to attend professional conferences, take classes, or become involved in teacher networks that are focused on some aspect of the curriculum, teaching, and assessment.

Despite the fitful progress to date, site-based mangement has revealed a reservoir of both schoolpeople and community members who are willing and interested in playing a greater role in the direction that learning will take within their particular buildings.

"As teachers,'' Pat Pryor, a teacher at Marrama Elementary School in Denver says, "we have never had a say in the running of our schools. This has been given to us, and what we do with it is up to us.''

"It's a frustrating process,'' Mr. Martyn of George Washington High School agrees, "but it's valuable. And we are desperately trying to make it work.

Vol. 12, Issue 22

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