Site-Based Decision-Making

Chapter 2 - The Premises and Assumptions

Site-based management assumes that the people involved in an enterprise will put more energy and spirit behind their work if they have a voice in selecting the destination and planning the route. It further assumes that planning will be better suited to the needs of the client if those closest to the client create the action plans and set the priorities.1

In the case of schools, large central bureaucracies are seen as the enemy of school improvement -- dinosaurs bound for extinction who have stood in the way of progress for decades. Decision-making in many school districts -- so this argument goes -- is bogged down in politics and turf battles which have little to do with the lives of children. Good ideas are stifled before they are uttered.

David2 sums up the rationale as being based on the following propositions:

1. The school is the primary decision-making unit; and its corollary: decisions should be made at the lowest possible level (e.g. Smith and Purkey, 1985).3

2. Change requires ownership that comes from the opportunity to participate in defining change and the flexibility to adapt it to individual circumstances; the corollary is that change does not result from externally imposed procedures (e.g. Fullan, 1982). 4

Site-based management is designed to engage the teachers and parents of a building in the development of new initiatives under the guidance of the principal. "Have it your way!" -- which served as Burger King's slogan for many years -- is now the cry of school reformers who stress the importance of customizing school programs to fit the needs and interests of local populations. If the programs are tailored to meet local appetites, so the reasoning goes, parents will stand behind the schools and support forward movement instead of remaining home alienated and disinterested.

Another underlying assumption of site-based management is that teachers know what is best for children and are capable of sorting through the myriad conflicting claims of textbook publishers and other vendors who are all quick to assert that they have miracle cures to drive away the problems which have beset schools in recent years. Proponents also suggest that teachers are an untapped well of great ideas, innovations and teaching techniques which will spring forth in great gushing geysers if only given the chance.

Some proponents of site-based management see it as a cost-savings strategy as they acknowledge little need to maintain central office administrators in their positions if decisions will be moved close to the children in individual buildings. Even though there is considerable evidence that site-based management requires extra district resources to support the necessary staff development, research, curriculum development and other activities associated with change, these people would use site-based management as an excuse to reduce the size of central bureaucracies.

Yet another assumption associated with site-based management is the notion that it is more democratic to run schools with representatives of teachers and parents elected by their peers than it is to rely upon school boards. Given the reality that both systems fall easy prey to special interest politics, small turn-outs and people with axes to grind, it is hard to build a case for healthy democratic behavior in either case.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, proponents of site-based management tend to see group problem-solving as a high quality source of good ideas and solutions. There is a definite distrust of bold and imaginative leaders like Odysseus who rarely consult team members or involve them in planning. It is assumed that teachers will generally put school improvement and children's welfare ahead of their own employment issues.

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Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.