Effective School-Based Management


School-Based Management (SBM) places significant decision-making power from the State and district offices to schools. An alternative approach to improve the education system, it lets principals, teachers, students, and parents decide on education-related issues like concerns on budget, personnel, and the curriculum.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the School-based Management approach creates the following advantages to high schools: 1

  • provides opportunity to competent school leaders in the schools to make decisions
  • boosts the morale of teachers and encourages leadership at all levels
  • allows participation of the entire school community in making key decisions
  • has a wider pool of ideas in designing education programs
  • focuses resources to the goals and needs of each school.

Implementing SBM
The corresponding national or regional education offices may still establish the general goals and broad policies for the district and the schools. However, school management councils may be created at each school level (comprised of the principal, representatives of teachers, students and parents) that will conduct needs assessment and develop plan of action.

Right from the start, principals and management councils must be entrusted on how to implement the district’s goals at the individual schools. Agreements, plans can be drafted to clearly set the responsibility and accountability at all levels. On the other hand, annual reports will show stakeholders how the school has performed against its set goals and plans.

Right from the start, principals and management councils must be entrusted on how to implement the district’s goals at the individual schools. Agreements, plans can be drafted to clearly set the responsibility and accountability at all levels. On the other hand, annual reports will show stakeholders how the school has performed against its set goals and plans.

In the early years of implementation, it is important that all stakeholders be oriented or trained in areas of leadership, decision-making, problem solving, and teamwork to help them successfully implement school-based management.

Researchers call attention to the many combinations of program features observable in different school-based management programs. As White (1989) puts it:

…there are numerous variations within districts and schools regarding the levels of authority, the actors involved, and the areas of control.

For example:

  • INCREASED AUTONOMY–the latitude to function independently to a considerable degree–may or may not accompany the increase in authority at the school site.
  • INCREASED SCHOOL-SITE ACCOUNTABILITY is likewise a feature of some school-based management efforts but not others.
  • The POWER TO ESTABLISH POLICY may or may not accompany the increase in the school’s power to make other kinds of decisions.
  • DECISION-MAKING DOMAINS differ enormously among different school-based management arrangements. Districts and boards may extend decision-making authority to the school in the major areas of budget and/or staffing and/or curriculum, as well as other domains.
  • The EXTENT OF DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY WITHIN DOMAINS also differs. For example, two districts implementing school-based management structures may both allow their schools to make decisions in the area of curriculum, but one may permit substantive decisions to be made and implemented, while the other allows only relatively trivial ones.
  • The DISTRIBUTION OF AUTHORITY AT SCHOOL SITES shows considerable variation as well. In some school-based management efforts, virtually all the increased decision-making authority extended to the site by the district remains in the hands of the principal. In others, teachers–but not other stakeholders–join the principal in making decisions. In most cases, however, decision-making authority is delegated to councils which might be made up of noncertified school staff and/or parents and/or community members and/or students, as well as the principal and the teachers.
  • Another difference across sites is the DEGREE OF REAL POWER HELD BY THE COUNCILS. That is, the presence of a broad-based decision-making body representing all major stakeholder groups does not necessarily guarantee that the interests of all groups are truly represented. Some principals assemble such groups and then either occupy their time with petty matters or retain veto power over their decisions.

Council members themselves sometimes contribute to excessive retention of power by the principal (or by the principal plus the teachers). Uncertainty about the extent of their authority or sheer unfamiliarity with assuming control over decision-making processes sometimes keeps councils from exercising as much authority as they have been delegated.

There are other variations as well, but this overview should serve to account for some of the confusion about what school-based management really means and the contradictory findings about the results it produces.

Given all this, what common denominators, if any, can be identified across the different definitions of school-based management?

For all their areas of disagreement, those who have generated definitions and descriptions do seem to concur with one another that school-based management:

  • Is a form of district organization
  • Alters the governance of education
  • Represents a shift of authority toward decentralization
  • Identifies the school as the primary unit of educational change
  • Moves increased decision-making power to the local school site.
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