Harvard Educational Review
  1. School-Based Management

    Organizing for High Performance

    Edited by Susan Albers Mohrman and Priscilla Wohlstetter.

    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994. 302 pp. $34.95.

    School-Based Management probes one possible reason why popular school decentralization efforts have met with limited success in improving schools. The authors argue that the current school-based management (SBM) discussion has focused primarily on the political process of school governance and the transfer of power from central to local actors and not on the broader organizational design process. Policymakers, practitioners, and scholars interested in the application of school-based management for educational improvement will find this book useful in reconceptualizing the role decentralization plays in systemic school reform.

    School-Based Management grew out of school decentralization research conducted by the Finance Center of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), but represents a product of the collaboration between CPRE and the Center for Effective Organizations (CEO). The editors are Susan Albers Mohrman, senior research scientists at the Center for Effective Organizations, and Priscilla Wohlstetter, associate professor at the University of Southern California and senior research fellow with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The editors use high-involvement, an organizational model drawn from the private sector, as a lens through which contributors are asked to reflect on school-based management. High-involvement management, a set of organizational principles originally conceived by Edward Lawler, is defined here as the "alter[ation of] the logic of the organization so that there is a less distinct demarcation between the work that produces the products or delivers the services and the work of developing strategies and plans, allocating resources, and controlling performance" (p. 9). Its application to schools lies in the rethinking of SBM as part of a long-term, complex process of systemic educational reform that includes decentralization of not only power, but also of knowledge, skills, information, and rewards.

    The book is organized into two sections. The first section is descriptive, the second prescriptive. Throughout, contributors use the high-involvement framework as an analytic lens to explore school-based management and other approaches to school improvement. The first chapters summarize the high-involvement model and review school-based management research. A later chapter looks at four well-known approaches to improving school performance — Effective Schools, the School Development Program, Accelerated Schools, and Essential Schools — in terms of their intersections with the high-involvement model. Subsequent chapters examine teacher professionalism and SBM, as well as the recent charter school phenomenon, which is explored as an example of extreme school decentralization. This first section concludes with a discussion of the power of SBM as a catalyst for school reform. Whereas SBM "creates the conditions where school-site participants can bring about changes in performance" (p. 167), the authors also caution that more than a shift in governance is necessary to bring about dramatic improvement in school practice. Redistribution of decisionmaking authority needs to be coupled with access to extensive information at all levels of the organization, professional development, and implementation of performance-based incentives.

    The second section of the book includes an examination of the process of change needed to implement fully a high-involvement model in schools. It begins with an exploration of three frameworks useful for conceptualizing change. The following chapters review the past two decades of literature on change in schools and locate SBM as part of large-scale educational change.

    The book concludes with a reminder that SBM should not be narrowly conceived as simply a change in school governance, but that "SBM needs to be viewed as the redesign of the school organization" that "allow[s] for many modes of involvement, beyond single-site councils. . . . SBM should not be seen as an isolated intervention; rather, it should be part of a more systemic set of changes that include the introduction of new approaches to teaching and learning" (pp. 269–270). The authors call for the redesign of schools into high-involvement organizations, noting that this transition will involve ongoing learning on the part of all stakeholders, as school communities find ways to forge connections between SBM, organizational design, and school improvement.

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    Book Notes

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    Places of Inquiry
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