A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Assessment of School-Based Management - October 1996

Generating Curriculum and Instructional Innovations through School-Based Management19


This study examined how schools utilize school-based management to introduce curriculum and instructional changes. It builds on previous research which concluded that school-based management can be more effective when the conditions associated with high-involvement organizations -- namely, the decentralization of power, knowledge and skills, information, and rewards -- are in place. In the present research, we assessed the extent to which these four conditions along with three other factors -- an instructional guidance system, leadership, and resources -- facilitated the implementation of four categories of curriculum and instructional innovations. Data from seventeen schools in eight locations supported the premise that higher levels of reform take place when higher levels of more of these supporting conditions are present at a school. Furthermore, all of these conditions, with the possible exception of resources, appear to be instrumental in facilitating these innovations. A number of avenues for future research are suggested.

This study assessed the relationships between seven factors hypothesized to support the implementation of curriculum and instructional reforms, and four categories of such reforms. Data from seventeen schools supported the premise that higher levels of reform take place when higher levels of more supporting conditions are in place.

School-based management (SBM) has become a popular reform in public school districts around the country. SBM constitutes a decentralization of decision making authority from a school district's central administration to decision makers at the school level as a means for stimulating school improvement (Malen, Ogawa, & Kranz, 1990). Across districts, there has been considerable variation in the impetus behind the reform, the amount of authority decentralized, the relative power of the constituents included in school decision making, and the administrative structures implemented at the school site (Ogawa & White, 1994; Wohlstetter & Odden, 1992). However, the basic element underlying the various forms of SBM is a change in the formal governance of the school.

SBM is typically oriented towards increasing the level of involvement of multiple stakeholders in the governance and management of schools. Such involvement is believed to generate a number of benefits for the school. It enables the school to tailor educational decisions to the needs of the local community it serves, thus facilitating a more effective utilization of the school's limited resources. It allows a greater range of perspectives to be taken into account in school decisions, thereby tapping into the energies of people more fully and empowering them to introduce improvements into their school. Ultimately, a primary purpose of SBM is usually to enhance school performance and the quality of education provided to its students.

Unfortunately, the empirical research investigating the link between school-based management and school improvement has been rather limited (Summers & Johnson, 1994). Furthermore, one comprehensive review of this literature (Malen et al., 1990) indicates that the impact of SBM is fairly limited. This prior research, and the experiences of a myriad of schools, makes it clear that a shift to school-based management does not guarantee subsequent school improvement. Hence, a critical question focuses on what conditions are necessary for SBM to enhance the quality of education provided to students.

To explore this question, it is useful to make explicit the distinction between SBM as a governance mechanism through which decisions get made, and the process of using this governance mechanism to generate innovative practices that will improve the quality of education (cf. Robertson, forthcoming). School-based management at a given school can be evaluated in part in terms of the extent to which it is an effective governance mechanism. Such an evaluation would consider the quality of the school's decision making processes including, for example, the nature of the involvement and influence of all the relevant constituents, their ability to build consensus and avoid the emergence of conflicting factions, and their capacity to address key issues rather than focusing on trivial decisions.

In addition, it is equally important to evaluate the effectiveness of SBM in terms of the extent to which it facilitates the process of change at a school. As is true of any other governance mechanism, the decisions made under SBM may or may not focus on organizational innovation and change. They may concentrate instead on efficient functioning or enhancement of current approaches. But schools currently exist in rapidly changing environments that require new and different approaches to improve performance and meet environmental demands and constraints. Under these conditions, the effectiveness of SBM rests on its ability to guide the school through a change process that includes the introduction of new approaches to teaching and learning. Effective governance includes the ability to make decisions that enable the school to introduce such changes.

Thus, a full understanding of how SBM can benefit a school requires identification of the conditions needed to motivate and enable schools to use their acquired decision making power to adopt significant innovation aimed at improving school performance. This paper reports the findings of our research regarding the governance and management strategies that most effectively support the use of school-based management to implement innovations in curriculum and instruction at the school site. We hypothesized that supporting conditions must be in place to promote effective SBM processes and to focus these governance processes on school reform. This research constituted the second phase of a larger project. It built on the first phase of the research, which took an exploratory approach to examining how districts and schools design and implement school-based management such that it becomes an effective mechanism for introducing reform in curriculum and instruction. The findings from the first phase (Mohrman, 1993; Mohrman, Wohlstetter, & Associates, 1994; Odden & Odden, 1994; Robertson & Briggs, 1994; Wohlstetter, Smyer, & Mohrman, 1994) provided the foundation for the research questions examined in the current research. Therefore, we summarize the first-phase findings below, followed by a delineation of the research questions addressed in this study.

19 This work is part of the Studies of Education reform program supported by the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Office of Research, under Contract RR 91-172002. The program supports studies and disseminates practical information about implementing and sustaining successful innovations in American education. This research has also received generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE). The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U. S. Department of Education, the University of Southern California, the Carnegie Corporation or CPRE, and no official endorsement should be inferred. We would also like to gratefully acknowledge the other members of the research team who contributed to the process of data collection and/or coding for this study: Kerri Briggs, Allan Odden, Eleanor Odden, John Smithson, Amy Van Kirk, and Paula White.
[Part 5: Conclusion] [Table of Contents] [Part 2: Conditions Supporting School-Based Management as a Governance Mechanism]