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School Site-Based Management: ACM Members Can Help Our Schools

Moursund, David G. (June, 1995). Site-based management: Saving our schools. Communications of the ACM. Volume 38, Issue 6, pp. 13-15.

Note added 11/26/2004. This is the original document that was submitted for publication. It does not contain possible changes made by the ACM editors.

Many schools at the K-12 level in the United States have developed school site-based management teams. Typically these teams consist of teachers, school administrators, parents, and other volunteers. Secondary school teams may also include students.

The level of authority and the resources available to site-based management teams vary considerably at different school sites throughout the country. However, all such site-based management teams are faced by the problems and possible solutions that computer-related technology bring into education. Moreover, quite often these teams do not have a computer-savvy member.

This article examines some of the computer-related issues faced by school site-based management teams. The goal is to encourage ACM members to volunteer some of their time to such teams.

Our Schools Are Under Attack

Many people in the United States are critical of our K-12 school system. Some of the criticism is based on the observation that on international comparisons, students in the US do not score as well as students from a number of other countries. Some of the criticism is based on the observation that many of the drop-outs and some of the graduates from our school system are not adequately prepared for the types of jobs that are available now or will be available in the future. Some of the criticism is based on the observation that quite a bit of the curriculum content and teaching methodology has not changed much during this century.

There have been many studies of how well our schools are doing. Three of the major findings include:

  1. Our schools are improving.
  2. Our overall K-12 educational system is not doing as well as the corresponding educational system in a number of other countries.
  3. On average, parents feel that our educational system as a whole is not doing very well, but that the schools in their local community are doing okay.

Almost everybody has opinions on how to improve our educational system. This article focuses on two major ideas. First, business-oriented people tend to feel that the schools should be run more like businesses. Second, many people who understand modern computer-related technology tend to feel that this technology should be playing a significantly increased role both in the content of the curriculum and in the overall instructional process.

Education as a Business

Business and industry have come to appreciate the benefits of greatly reducing the number of levels between the front line workers and the top management. The past decade has seen a significant decline in middle management types of positions.

It can prove to be enlightening to look at a school system as a business. In the US, the average yearly cost of K-12 schooling per student is getting close to $6,000. Thus, even a quite small school district is apt to be a multi-million dollar enterprise. These enterprises tend to be run by a structure that includes:

  1. 1. Federal, state, and district laws, rules, and regulations that are many hundreds of pages in length (a bureaucratic, top- down approach).
  2. A school board (often highly politicized) that hires a superintendent and then quite often does a great deal of micro managing.
  3. Individual schools, with their principals and assistant principals.
  4. Individual teachers; many have a propensity to close their classroom doors and conduct classes in a manner that they deem most appropriate.

Although parents are not included in this list, an individual parent or a very small group of parents can often cause a significant change in a school or school system. Examples include groups working to get certain books banned from the library or sex education removed from the curriculum. Such groups tend to clash with other groups that want students to have full Internet access!

The comparison between school systems and businesses leads many people to suggest that schools should be run more like businesses. The suggestion is that much of the bureaucracy and higher levels of management should be removed, and that site-based management should be implemented.

Site-based Management

The push for school site-based management has come both from within the educational system and from outside pressures such as legislative bodies and businesses. A number of states have mandated school site-based management. Many individual school districts have made the decision to move in this direction.

A review of the historical literature on school site-based management is given in David (1989). The state of Kentucky has mandated site-based management. Research based on the first two years of widespread implementation of site-based management in Kentucky is given in David (1994). Walberg and Niemiec (1994) discuss changes in the Chicago schools since 1989. The state-mandated Chicago School Reform Act of 1988 requires and empowers school site-based councils.

Research indicates that school site-based management is no panacea for what ails schools. It requires a great deal of time, effort, and learning on the part of the site-based management team in order to achieve needed school reform. Many site-based management teams have not been provided with the needed training, authority, and resources. The problems facing our schools are difficult and are not easily solved by a change in management structure.

Computer-related technology adds another dimension to the difficulties of site-based management. The typical management team is woefully deficient in knowledge about the Information Superhighway, computer networks, capabilities and relative cost effectiveness of computers and other instructional technologies, computer-assisted instruction, and the computer as a personal or group productivity tool. Even if the management team draws on the teacher and staff resources of the entire school, it is still apt to come up short handed in up to date knowledge of computer-related technology.

Technology Advisory Council

Some schools have developed Technology Advisory Councils (Austin et al, 1993). A Technology Advisory Council (TAC) typically consists of a variety of teachers, administrators, parents, and other volunteers. It does long-range planning for technology in the school.

However, usually a TAC has neither the authority nor the resources to play a significant role in the implementation of the long-range plans that it develops. Moreover, effective use of computer-related technology in school requires a school wide commitment. It requires major amounts of staff development, curriculum development and reform, and acquisition of hardware, software, and networking facilities.

Thus, a TAC needs to work in conjunction with a school site-based management team and/or other groups that have the authority and resources to make major changes in a school.

Possible Roles of ACM Members

In many instances, members of a school site-based management team are elected or are appointed by the various stakeholder groups that they represent. Thus, an ACM member who is interested in serving on such a team will likely need to be involved in the local politics of the creation and continuation of the team.

A TAC, however, tends to be less political. If you have a child in a school and you find that the school does not have a TAC, chances are that you can facilitate the creation of such a council. If a school located in your neighborhood already has a TAC, chances are that the meetings are open to anybody who wants to attend, and that the council will welcome a new volunteer.

Serving on a TAC or a school site-based management team can take quite a bit of time and effort. However, it can be a wonderful and rewarding learning experience. Technology in education and educational reform are complex and challenging topics!


1   Austin, T., et al. The technology advisory council: A vehicle for improving our schools. ISTE, Eugene, Ore., 1993.

2   Bergman, A.B. Lessons for principals from site-based management. Edu. Lead. (Sept. 1992), 48-51.

3   David, J.L. School-based decision making: Kentucky's test of decentralization. Phi Delta Kappan (May, 1994), 706-712.

4   David, J.L. Synthesis of research on site-based management. Edu. Lead. (May, 1989), 45-53.

5   Glickman, C.D. The essence of school renewal: The prose has begun. Edu. Lead. (Sept. 1992), 24-27.

6   Murgatroyd, S. and Morgan, C. Total Quality Management and the School Open University Press, Buckingham, (1992).

7   Sarason, S. The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco (1990).

8  Walberg, HJ. and Niemiec, R.P. Is Chicago school reform working? Phi Delta Kappan (May, 1994), 713-715.

About the Author

DAVID G. MOURSUND is Executive Officer of the International Society for Technology in Education and a Professor in the College of Education at the University of Oregon. Current research interests include roles of computers in teaching and learning problem solving. Author’s Present Address: International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, Oregon 97403; email