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

New Boundaries for School-Based Management:
The High Involvement Model


A major challenge facing reformers who are demanding high levels of performance from the educational system is to enable schools to make changes in the way they deliver services to create high performance. This article examines the utility of school-based management (SBM) as a means for generating school improvement and applies a model of high involvement management, developed in the private sector, to determine what makes SBM work and under what conditions. Emerging from the analysis is the importance of expanding the definition of SBM to include aspects of organizational redesign beyond the traditional boundaries of shared power in order to create the capacity within schools to develop high performance.


While school-based management continues to be a priority in state and district reform efforts across the county, there is scant evidence linking SBM to improved school performance (Ogawa & White, in press; Fullan, 1993). Part of the explanation, argued by us and others elsewhere (Wohlstetter & Odden, 1992), is that improving school performance may be an unrealistic expectation for a governance reform that alters the balance of power within educational systems toward schools. A means-end relationship between governance and school improvement is difficult to argue in the absence of some kind of instructional guidance mechanism that sets forth the direction of change with regard to curriculum and instruction -- the technical core of schooling. Consequently, if one goal of reform is to create high performance schools, a key research question related to the evaluation of SBM is: Can SBM when combined with a push for curriculum and instructional reform produce school improvement? In other words, when a direction for curriculum and instruction is provided, does SBM enable schools to redesign themselves for high performance?

Also of interest to this research are the organizational design mechanisms associated with SBM. Traditionally, SBM policies (as well as research on SBM) have had a limited focus on issues related to power, such as how much power should be devolved to the school site and who should be the ultimate authority on the campus. However, what we know from decades of organizational research is that organizational performance improves not only when power is shifted down to lower levels of the organization, but also when those empowered are trained for their new decision-making roles, have information to make informed decisions and are rewarded for high performance (Lawler, 1986). This framework of high involvement management offers hunches about conditions that might enable schools to make changes in the way they deliver their services to create high performance. Thus, if our goal is to create high performance schools, it is arguable that the boundaries of SBM need to be expanded beyond involvement of school-level people in organizational decision-making. It should be defined as an overall approach to involving participants in the management of schools that includes in addition to decision-making power increased professional development to prepare participants for expanded roles in the governance process and in the operation of the organization. Access to information related to management and performance, and reward systems that motivate and reinforce effort to produce high performance are also elements of the high involvement model. The argument is that providing instructional direction through an instructional guidance mechanism and moving decisions into the schools are not enough. These other resources -- information, knowledge and skills, and rewards -- will be required if school-level actors are to have the capacity to make the changes required to implement the new directions.

In sum, the research reported here, which focuses on the utility of SBM as a means for schools to generate performance-oriented changes in their instructional practices, is distinguished in two ways. First, it evaluates SBM in reform contexts where there was a push for curriculum and instruction reform, either from the state or the district. Second, the study goes beyond traditional boundaries of SBM by applying a model of high involvement, developed in the private sector, to better understand mechanisms that may contribute both to the successful governance of schools and to curricular and instructional reform in classrooms. The findings confirm the importance of expanding the definition of SBM to include aspects of the organization beyond decision-making power in order to create the capacity within schools to develop high performance. For practitioners and policy makers, this research offers practical design and implementation strategies to help schools improve their performance through SBM.

[Section Four: Cross-Site Analysis] [Table of Contents] [Part 2: The High Involvement Framework]