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Volume 11, Number 6
November/December 1995

Shared Decision-Making by Itself Doesn't Make for Better Decisions


Who should make the most important decisions about how a school is run? Traditionally, it has been the principal, who gets lots of advice from district administrators and school boards. In the last decade, however, reformers have called for a much bigger role for teachers in making decisions at the school level, especially in matters of curriculum, instruction, and assessment—the core issues that are most directly related to students' learning. The Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy and the Holmes Group, among others, in their reports on the future of teaching as a profession, advocated decentralized control of public schools and the empowerment of teachers.

Efforts to promote site-based management of public schools often take for granted the superiority of shared decision-making, where teachers and administrators jointly take responsibility for making school policy. But recent research suggests that some common assumptions underlying the arguments for shared decision-making are overoptimistic. These studies indicate that simply moving decision-making power from one set of actors to another doesn't necessarily change the quality of those decisions. And they reinforce the conclusion of other researchers that, when it comes to making significant changes in practice, it is the principal's leadership and vision that most often provide the essential push.

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For Further Information

For Further Information

J. Cambone, C. Weiss, and A. Wyeth. We're Not Programmed for This: An Exploration of the Variance Between the Ways Teachers Think and the Concept of Shared Decision Making in High Schools. National Center for Educational Leadership (444 Gutman Library, 6 Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138); 1992.

S. Mohrmann, P. Wohlstetter, et al. School-Based Management: Organizing for High Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

J. Murphy and L. Beck. School-Based Management as School Reform: Taking Stock. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 1995.

A. Summers and A. Johnson. A Review of the Evidence on the Effects of School-Based Management Plans. Institute for Research in Higher Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania (4200 Pine St., Suite 5A, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4090); 1991.

C. Weiss. "The Four 'I's' of School Reform: How Interests, Ideology, Information, and Institution Affect Teachers and Principals." Harvard Educational Review 65, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 571-592.

C. Weiss and J. Cambone. "Principals, Shared Decision Making, and School Reform." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 16, no. 3 (Fall 1994): 287-301.