Decentralization and Accountability in Public Education

by Paul T. Hill, Josephine J. Bonan


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Site-based management, one of the most widely discussed educational reforms, involves shifting the initiative in public education from school boards, superintendents, and central administrative offices to individual schools. The purpose of site-based management is to improve performance by making those closest to the delivery of services — teachers and principals — more independent and therefore more responsible for the results of their school's operations. This report distills the experience of school systems that have instituted site-based management. It is based on a study of five major urban and suburban school systems — Columbus, Ohio; Dade County, Florida; Edmonton, Alberta (Canada); Jefferson County (Louisville), Kentucky; and Prince William County, Virginia. It also draws on newspaper and scholarly accounts of site-based management in other communities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Montgomery County (Maryland), Salt Lake City, Tampa, and Indianapolis. The authors draw these conclusions: (1) though site-based management focuses on individual schools, it is a reform of the entire school system; (2) site-based management will lead to real changes at the school level only if it is a school system's basic reform strategy, not just one among several reform projects; (3) site-managed schools are likely to evolve over time and to develop distinctive characters, goals, and operating styles; (4) a system of distinctive, site-managed schools requires a rethinking of accountability; and (5) the ultimate accountability mechanism for a system of distinctive, site-managed schools is parental choice.

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