School-Based Management

Governing highlighted a practice that seems to fly in the face of the current trend toward centralization…

Detroit for instance is moving toward giving schools more authority by implementing five person boards per school.  They also highlight Edmonton, Alberta which could be a model for school choice as well.

Edmonton has a population of 1.1 million, and its public schools educate more than 80,000 students. School-based management was at the heart of a radical transformation that began during the 1970s.

Edmonton students are issued a “passport” that allows them to choose any traditional district school, a charter school or a private school (the province of Alberta pays two-thirds of the costs for students choosing to attend private schools). Schools that attract students thrive; those that don’t close. (Five were closed in 2005 alone.) Since more than half of the students don’t attend their “home school,” they get subsidized passes for the city’s transportation system.

You might expect that students would beat down the doors to get into private or charter schools, but Edmonton’s traditional public schools competed and won. By 2005, there were only a handful of private or charter schools in the city. The others didn’t all close; most actually asked to join the public system. “In Edmonton,” former Superintendent Angus McBeath said, “the wealthy send their children to public schools.”

Devolving authority to the school level is central to Edmonton’s success. Goals and performance measures are determined centrally, but each school has the authority and resources to figure out how to achieve them. By 1996, individual schools were deciding how to spend 92 cents out of every education dollar.

This demonstrates a couple of different things.  First, when public schools are forced to actually compete they improve.  Secondly, decentralization of funds, curriculum decisions and the like also helps to improve schools.  Give parents more choice and control combined with having school-based elected boards which will give parents more influence looks to be a formula for improved schools.