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Politics of School-Based Management

Author(s): Elaine M. Walker

Journal: Education Policy Analysis Archives
ISSN 1068-2341

Volume: 10;
Start page: 33;
Date: 2002;
Original page

Since the late 1970s the problem of urban education has been cast as partially a problem of governance and authority structures. This focus mirrors a larger preoccupation by educational reformers with democratizing the decision-making process in public schools, a preoccupation that is evident not only in this country but also many nations throughout the world. Borrowing from the private sector, the underlying assumption behind decentralization is that educational improvement is only possible if those closest to the point at which decision are enacted become the architects of these decisions. Thus, school-based management or participatory decision-making is viewed as a means to formally incorporate the voices of parents, teachers and the community in the management of their schools. This paper discusses the findings of a recently conducted study on school-based management in thirty of New Jersey's poorest districts (referred to as the Abbott Districts). These districts have begun a process of complex reform after the State's Supreme Court ruled that the state had failed to constitutionally provide a thorough and efficient education for its poorest students by the absence of parity funding. Populated by primarily black and Hispanic students, and representing most of the larger urban communities in the state, students in these districts exhibit performance levels significantly below that of the state average. The results of the study indicate that (1) genuine autonomy has been usurped by an intensification in state power and authority, (ii) state elites have provided little opportunity for districts and SBM teams to build capacity; (iii) the level of democratization or opening-up of decision making to local community members has been minimal as the teams become teacher dominated; and (iv) in the absence of clear guidelines from the State, conflict over the appropriate role of SBM members, principals, central office staff and local school boards has emerged. The paper on the basis of these findings explores some policy options that need to be considered both at the state and local levels as school communities move toward more decentralized governance structures.

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