The research reported here is based on data collected in four school districts in North America -- Edmonton, Canada; Jefferson County, Kentucky; Prince William County, Virginia; and San Diego, California.9 The districts typically adopted SBM about four years ago; at the extreme was Edmonton where the first pilot began in the late 1970s. Schools in the sample districts generally had substantial authority in terms of the budget. They were able to some extent to decide the mix of personnel (although state law and union contracts constrained this in some districts), to carry-over some funds from one year to the next and to purchase some services from outside the district. All four districts were implementing SBM in combination with curriculum and instructional reform, but there was variation in terms of who was providing the instructional guidance system. In San Diego and Jefferson County, the state provided direction in the areas of curriculum and instructional reform. In Prince William County, the district played the key role, although curriculum reform was lagging the implementation of SBM. In Edmonton, the district through its curriculum department played the predominant role, however, the province (state) provided general goals and a broad curriculum framework that drove local effort.
Aside from the screening criteria, districts were selected to represent a range of school-based management policies. Three of the districts we studied mandated that schools adopt SBM; the one exception was Jefferson County where SBM was voluntary and the vote to adopt SBM was a school-level decision. Some plans -- in Jefferson County and San Diego -- required site councils with heavy teacher involvement; in Edmonton and Prince William, SBM plans empowered principals, although in Prince William the principals were explicitly directed to involve teachers and the community in decisions and planning. In terms of the catalyst for reform, superintendents typically initiated the move to SBM among our four districts. However, in Jefferson County the teachers' union also played a major role: the reform was brought to the negotiating table and enacted through contract language.
In each of the four districts, we studied six schools -- two elementary, two middle/junior and two high schools. At each level of schooling, we studied one actively restructuring school that had been successful in making concrete changes in the areas of curriculum and instruction, and one struggling school that was active with SBM but far less successful in making changes. This approach was taken to make it possible to examine what conditions were present when SBM led to changes in teaching and learning. The identification of struggling and actively restructuring schools was by either the district superintendent or the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. In most cases, nominations were solicited from area superintendents and/or curriculum specialists in the district office and the following definitions were used:
In addition to interviews, faculties at school campuses were asked to complete a short survey. The survey was designed as a broader check on the attitudes of the staff regarding SBM than was possible from the subset of staff who were interviewed. The survey asked respondents to rate how satisfied they were with SBM, the amount of influence campus constituencies had on SBM, how much support existed for SBM and to what extent SBM had influenced campus outcomes. Open-ended questions asked participants to identify factors that facilitated and were a barrier to the application of SBM to the improvement of teaching and learning on campus.
The discussion, which follows, reports on information gleaned from 23 schools in four districts. Slightly more than half of the schools we studied were classified as actively restructuring, based on their success in making changes aimed at improving instructional effectiveness; the other half were classified as struggling -- schools that were active with SBM but where classroom practice had not changed much.10 Some of the changes in curriculum and instruction that had been instituted in actively restructuring schools included: team teaching; non-graded, mixed ability groups; cooperative learning; writing across the curriculum; interdisciplinary instruction, and hands-on instruction (performance events).
The methodology employed is a comparative case analysis. Researchers wrote rich case descriptions of SBM, school improvement areas and organizational features including mechanisms for sharing knowledge, information, power and rewards in each school. The cases were then examined to find patterns where actively restructuring schools differed from struggling schools in these areas. The remainder of this article describes those patterns.
9 Similar research methods were used to study SBM schools in Victoria, Australia. The research results are reported in A. Odden and E. Odden, Applying the High Involvement Framework to Local Management of Schools in Victoria, Australia (April, 1994).
10 Our original intent was to have a sample of 24 schools -- six each from four districts -- evenly divided between "struggling" and "actively restructuring". But, one "struggling" elementary school dropped out of the study at the last minute and so one district in the sample had only five schools represented.