SBM Counterpoint

SITE BASED MANAGEMENT is not without its detractors, though. In 1996 the Center on Education Governance issued a critical report of SBM strategies after examining policies of 40 schools in 13 school districts. The report, Assessment of School Based Management, concluded that SBM can worked when applied correctly, but in the majority of schools studied various factors got in the way of successful implementation. Four major obstacles were noted:

1. SBM is adopted as an end in itself. As a form of governance, SBM in and of itself will not generate improvement in school performance. Instead, it is simply a means through which school-level decision makers can implement various reforms that can improve teaching and learning.

2. Principals work from their own agenda, not helping to develop a common one. Many principals in struggling schools were perceived as too autocratic by their staffs, who reported that the principals appeared to dominate all decisions. Such principals typically identified, on their own, a vision for the school and then presented it -- fait accompli -- to teachers. This often led to a power struggle between teachers and the principal over who controlled the school.

3. Decision-making power is centered in a single council. Struggling SBM schools tended to concentrate power in a single school council that often was composed of a small group of committed teachers who were painfully aware they did not have broad representation. These councils tended to get bogged down in establishing power relationships. One struggling school spent almost a year developing a policy manual that specified who had power and under what conditions.

4. Business as usual. Too many schools have assumed that SBM occurs with average levels of commitment and energy. Our research found that SBM is a time-consuming and complicated process that places high demands on all individuals involved. Schools struggled with SBM when they simply layered SBM on top of what they were already doing.

The report went on to say that schools with misdirected SBM policies could get their reform efforts back on track by making the following changes:

1. Establish multiple, teacher-led decision-making teams. In schools where SBM worked, multiple, teacher-led decision-making teams were created that cut across the school both horizontally and vertically to involve a broad range of school-level constituents in the decision-making process.

2. Focus on continuous improvement with school-wide training in functional and process skills, as well as in areas related to curriculum and instruction. Professional development in schools where SBM worked was a very high priority. Staff participated in training opportunities on a regular, ongoing basis, rather than sporadically and infrequently.

3. Create a well-developed system for sharing school-related information among a broad range of constituents. The schools where SBM worked used many communication mechanisms to share information. In these schools information not only flowed to the school from the central office, but also within the school and out to the community.

4. Develop ways to more effectively reward staff behavior oriented toward achieving school objectives. Where school-based management worked, the school community rewarded effort and recognized improved performance.

5. Select principals who can facilitate and manage change. The schools where SBM worked had principals who played a key role in dispersing power, in promoting a school-wide commitment to learning and growth in skills and knowledge, in expecting all teachers to participate in the work of the school, in collecting information about student learning, and in distributing rewards.

6. Use district, state and/or national guidelines (standards) to focus reform efforts and to target changes in curriculum and instruction. School-based management had more leverage when adopted in the context of a set of curricular guidelines.

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