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

The High Involvement Framework

The recent history of SBM, under the rubric of community participation, decentralization or teacher empowerment, can be traced back to the 1960s. Then, as well as now, reformers often adopted SBM for ideological reasons as a means of democratizing schools (David, 1989; Malen, Ogawa & Kranz, 1990). Embedded in the theory of reform also was the purpose of school improvement. Through SBM, decision-making authority was extended down the professional hierarchy to stakeholders not traditionally involved -- teachers and parents -- and once empowered, these groups who were closest to the students would make better decisions and school performance would improve. Schools often were instructed to create councils of stakeholders at sites and those councils usually were vested with varying amounts of authority in the areas of budget, personnel and curriculum (Clune & White, 1988). Once councils were set up and power (at least on paper) was transferred, district offices felt they had accomplished the reform and were ready to move onto the next. Research on SBM was concerned with questions related to politics (see, for example, Wohlstetter & McCurdy, 1991).

Lawler, in work conducted primarily in the private sector, confirms the importance of power for improving organizational performance, arguing that it is a necessary but insufficient condition. Employees must have power -- especially in the areas of budget, personnel and work processes -- to make decisions that influence organizational practices, policies and directions. In Lawler's framework of high involvement management, there are three other organizational resources that need to be decentralized in order for employees to have the capacity to create high performance organizations:

In sum, Lawler's model posits that four resources -- knowledge, power, information and rewards -- create the conditions that enable employees within the organization to restructure for high performance. If SBM is viewed as a school improvement reform, Lawler's work suggests that districts need to transfer more than power over budget, curriculum and personnel to the school site. Schools, like high performance organizations in the private sector, also need to involve the school community in professional development opportunities (knowledge and skills), to share information broadly, and to reward participants, if they are to be successful at restructuring curriculum and instruction and improving school performance.

In the study reported here, Lawler's notion of high involvement management offered a framework for evaluating SBM. The suitability of the framework to schools is suggested by Lawler's findings that high involvement management is most appropriate for service organizations that engage in knowledge production; that exist in a changing environment and have complex job tasks requiring constant decision-making; and that are characterized by interdependence among tasks within the organization. All of these traits apply to schools (Wohlstetter & Odden, 1992; Mohrman, Lawler & Mohrman, 1992). Also noteworthy is the fact that such learnings from the private sector were gleaned during a time when these organizations were faced with a situation currently confronting American public schools -- namely performance that was not meeting the requirements of a changing environment, and few prospects of new money to infuse into the organization. The parallels between schools and organizations in the private sector where high involvement management has been successful argue for a test of a broader conceptualization of SBM. Application of the high involvement framework suggests that for schools to enjoy the greatest success in improving performance, power would be devolved to the school site, and there would be an emphasis on increasing the knowledge and skills, information, and rewards at the school-level. The underlying hypothesis is that, with those resources, critical conditions necessary for creating a high performance organization would be present and schools would have the capability of implementing strategies for improving school performance. This study explores the applicability of this framework by examining whether these four resources are more likely to be present in SBM schools that are achieving success in implementing curricular and instructional changes than in SBM schools where such changes are not forthcoming.
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[New Boundaries for School-Based Management: The High Involvement Model] [Table of Contents] [Part 3: The Study]