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April 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 7

Research Link / The Promise and Pitfalls of Site-Based Management

One of the most promising legacies of the education reform movement has been the concept of empowerment and shared decision making, most commonly known as site-based or school-based management. The idea of site-based management has grown in popularity over the past decades. Janet David (1995/1996) found that between 1986 and 1990, fully one-third of all school districts nationwide had implemented some version of this management process.
Since that time, many more districts have jumped on the bandwagon. In addition, more than 20 states have passed legislation to create site-based managed charter schools. All this activity excludes individual schools that have instituted reforms without state or district mandates. But what exactly is site-based management and, more important, is it working?

Definitions and Potential Problems

School-based management was founded on an industrial model that showed the benefits of involving factory workers in changing their work roles (Conway & Calz, 1995/1996). But Conway and Calz question applying an industrial model to education because teachers differ significantly from factory workers. According to these researchers, the one constant regarding shared decision making is increased worker satisfaction. But, they remind us, satisfaction is not the same as productivity.
Site-based management is defined in a variety of ways but typically incorporates the same components: a delegation of authority to individual schools, a shared decision-making model involving various stakeholders, and facilitative leadership at the school level (Levey & Acker-Hocevar, 1998). In reviewing data on site-based management councils in a large urban district, Levey and Acker-Hocevar found that 80 percent of the schools had a functioning council in place, although many were ineffective. This lack of effectiveness resulted because the schools neither clearly defined the roles and relationships among the faculty nor mentioned the crucial components or competencies necessary to implement site-based management.
In a literature review, Bauer and Bogotch (1997) found that districts and schools seldom fully implement site-based systems. Districts rush to implement site-based management without considering what it takes to make the transition. The researchers emphasize several conclusions from their study. In many districts, site-based teams were expected to develop their own rules of operation, and the limits of their autonomy were left ambiguous. District leaders assumed that specifying such issues as the degree of authority that teams should have and the types of problems that they should address would in some way deprive teams of their needed autonomy.
The researchers' analysis suggests, however, that leaving the design issues ambiguous or ill-defined may have serious consequences. Districts must nurture and support teams by giving all team members a clear picture of the goals and processes of sited-based management and by aiding them in developing communication and decision-making skills.
Bauer and Bogotch's analysis also has implications for leadership at the school site. School leaders must ensure that site councils have adequate time to meet and communicate with the school on relevant issues. The principal needs to refrain from directing and telling others what to do; rather, he or she must help the team members acquire necessary skills. Along with dispersing power to individuals, school principals must disperse responsibility. The researchers found that principals have a pervasive fear about sharing power and responsibility because they perceive that they alone are accountable should school improvement efforts fail. But as school leadership becomes more collaborative and facilitative, so, too, must schoolwide accountability. School council participants must be recognized, respected, and responsible.
McCloskey, Mikow-Porto, and Bingham (1998) found that in many cases, neither principals nor faculty members are adequately prepared to engage in shared decision making. They found that 27 percent of the principals surveyed indicated that their site-based management teams received no training on how to develop and implement a school-improvement plan. In addition, a majority of teachers who had not served on site-based committees were either neutral or negative about the extent to which they understood their new roles and responsibilities. The researchers also found that schools are so deeply enmeshed in federal, state, and district mandates that the creation of site-based teams could not ensure new levels of decision-making power. The degree to which schools feel constrained by outside pressures is key to understanding how well site-based decision making works.
Odden and Wohlstetter (1995) discovered distinct differences in approaches between schools in which site-based management worked well and schools that struggled with the concept. For site-based management to improve school performance, two conditions are necessary: People at the school site must have genuine authority over the budget, personnel, and curriculum, and leaders must introduce changes that directly affect teaching and learning. Schools that were less successful in making changes were stuck on power and housekeeping issues.
The researchers found that the strategies that the most successful projects had in common were a dispersal of power throughout the school, professional development as an ongoing schoolwide activity, a broad dissemination of information, and a principal who could lead and delegate responsibility.

Cautious Conclusions

The current research suggests that site-based management can be an effective tool to empower stakeholders in bringing about meaningful changes in teaching and learning. These changes will come about, however, only through the establishment of a clearly articulated vision and through the work of administrators and teachers who have adequate time and training to implement the process fully.

Bauer, S., & Bogotch, I. (1997). An analysis of the relationships between site council resources, council practices, and outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 415 262)

Conway, J., & Calz, F. (1995, December/1996, January). The dark side of shared decision making. Educational Leadership, 53, 45–49.

David, J. (1995, December/1996, January). The who, what, and why of site-based management. Educational Leadership, 53, 4–9.

Levey, J., & Acker-Hocevar, M. (1998). Site-based management: Retrospective understandings and future directions. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 428 439)

McCloskey, W., Mikow-Porto, V., & Bingham, S. (1998). Reflecting on progress: Site-based management and school improvement in North Carolina. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 421 766)

Odden, E., & Wohlstetter, P. (1995, February). Making school-based management work. Educational Leadership, 52, 32–36.

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