released. Studies of SBM suggest this assumption is a risky one to make. It is unclear that school-level actors have any better idea of how to improve teaching and learning in schools than central actors. A common problem identified in the studies of SBM, for example, is lack of training, suggesting that school-level councils, albeit empowered, are unsure how to proceed and are looking for direction. Although it is too early to judge the effect of Chicago's complex reform effort, preliminary reports suggest that the LSCs focus much of their effort on noninstructional areas such as facilities improvement and student discipline. Some of these efforts may contribute to an environment in which learning is more likely to take place, but observers claim that less than a quarter of the schools have developed plans that are likely to have any significant direct effect on instruction (Hess, 1993).4 No doubt part of the reason for a lack of focus on teaching and learning is that it is far from obvious how to proceed. If certain knowledge about how to increase student performance were readily available, it would have been put into practice long ago.

Teachers themselves appear to be an unlikely source of instructionally oriented reform in schools. In the Chicago experiment, teachers see little need for changes in classroom practice. In a recent survey, teachers reported that they felt they were already performing competently in the classroom and that change on the part of the students, not teachers, is necessary for school performance to improve (Hess, 1993). Findings by Weiss and Cambone also suggest that teachers are unlikely to generate instructional reform. She found that teachers in the SBM schools she observed tended to focus their energies on areas not directly related to teaching and learning, such as hall behavior or management of the copying machine. Overall, Weiss and Cambone found little difference in the types of decisions reported in schools with and without SBM.

This is not to suggest that allowing schools to determine their own priorities has no value, but experience to date suggests that the changes that take place are likely to be minor and, for the most part, not directly focused on teaching and learning. In short, there is no assurance that schools, left their own devices, will direct their efforts to a much greater extent than they already do to matters that contribute to higher student achievement.

Local accountability is a third issue. One of the premises of SBM is that the local actors—principals, teachers, and, particularly, parents—precisely because they are local will be able to hold school operations more accountable than would a remote authority. They are supposedly a source of close-up quality control. It is known, however, from both survey and ethnographic studies that some schools, primarily higher-socioeconomic-status (SES) suburban schools, operate with high

4  

Although instructionally relevant change was introduced in only a minority of schools, generating any changes that better daily life in these schools should still be considered an important accomplishment.



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