Promoting a Management Revolution in Public Education

by Stacey M. Childress, Richard Elmore & Allen S. Grossman

Overview — Public school districts are difficult to lead and manage, and the idea of applying business principles to school reform is popular. But is it practical? This paper describes the work of Harvard's Public Education Leadership Program as it helps school districts grapple with performance challenges, including student achievement that compares unfavorably with other countries, and a significant performance gap between white and minority students. Complicating the picture: The concept of managing for accountability is new in education. The authors studied the effects of improved management on public school student performance by comparing fifteen large urban school districts with similar peer districts. Key concepts include:

  • There is a connection between improved management and better educational outcomes.
  • Districts that organized activities more coherently and focused efforts on the "core business" of student performance and classroom instruction outperformed other school districts suffering similar constraints.

Author Abstract

How often has it been said that public education in the United States should be run more like a business? This exhortation urges American public schools to apply the same management, leadership and organizational approaches to public education that have been used to create the iconic state of global business. The idea is simple and seductive. The problem is that while public school districts have a myriad of managerial, leadership and organizational concerns, they are not businesses. In reality, their differences are greater than their similarities. Even so, our research in fifteen large urban public school districts reveals a hopeful phenomenon - one quite familiar to business. Districts that unrelentingly focus on their core business of student performance, create and implement coherent strategies around this core, and array all the elements of the district to drive and support improved classroom instruction, out-perform their peer districts with comparable constraints.

Paper Information