Does Management Matter in Schools?

by Nicholas Bloom, Renata Lemos, Raffaella Sadun & John Van Reenen

Overview — There are major disparities in the quality of education within and across countries. School managerial practices may be one important reason for such differences, but research in this area has traditionally been held back by a lack of robust and comparable instruments to systematically measure management practices. In this paper the authors develop a novel and internationally comparable index of management quality for schools, and apply this methodology to measure management practices across 1,800 private and public schools across eight developed and developing economies. Three key findings emerged. First, the adoption of basic managerial practices varies significantly across and within countries. The United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada and the US obtain the highest average scores, followed by Germany, Italy and Brazil, while India has the lowest scores. Second, higher management scores are positively correlated with better pupil outcomes. Third, they show that that—similar to the private sector—different types of school governance are associated with systematically different levels of management adoption. Key concepts include:

  • Management practices vary significantly across and within countries and are strongly linked to pupil outcomes.
  • Among autonomous government schools, two key features account for a large fraction of the superior management performance of such schools: 1) having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and 2) exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school.
  • Improving management could raise school standards and could give broad support for the fostering of greater autonomy of government schools.
  • Autonomy by itself is unlikely to deliver better results. However, finding ways to improve governance and motivate principals could make sure that decentralized power leads to better standards.

Author Abstract

We collect data on operations, targets, and human resources management practices in over 1,800 schools educating 15-year-olds in eight countries. Overall, we show that higher management quality is strongly associated with better educational outcomes. The UK, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. obtain the highest management scores closely followed by Germany, with a gap to Italy, Brazil, and then finally India. We also show that autonomous government schools (i.e., government funded but with substantial independence like UK academies and U.S. charters) have significantly higher management scores than regular government schools and private schools. Almost half of the difference between the management scores of autonomous government schools and regular government schools is accounted for by differences in leadership of the principal and better governance.

Paper Information