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16. Site-based decision-making improves student learning

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) supports legislation to improve student learning by encouraging creative teaching methods to challenge children while stressing high standards in student performance. Therefore, GAE supports efforts to ensure public confidence in public education by requiring site-based decision-making and school based authority and responsibility.

Perhaps the most persistent criticism of the Georgia’s Quality Basic Education Act is that it is based upon a top down system of management, control, spending, and decision-making. There is little ability or encouragement for decisions on student achievement, performance, or spending by the faculty, and school community. GAE believes that any Georgia education reform package must include the opportunity for the school faculty to be directly involved in the decision-making process. Educators cannot be expected to be held accountable if they are not provided authority to make decisions.

Professor Carl Glickman of the University of Georgia developed a position paper on public school accountability entitled "School-Based Authority and Responsibility" (August 1999). Professor Glickman stated, "All schools in Georgia (should) be granted by their local districts, local school boards, and state agencies all of the authority that each school believes necessary to achieve improved student results . . . the local school would agree, by a letter of understanding that they would be accountable for academic achievement and high standards for all students in their charge. Each school would establish its own governance structure composed of the school principal, faculty, staff, teachers, and parents who would be responsible for (a) budget for curriculum, textbooks, instruction, teaching materials and professional development; (b) use of instructional time, placement of students, and staffing patterns; (c) hiring and deployment of personnel; (d) school policies, evaluation of personnel, and home-school relations. Local school boards would retain authority for district vision, goals, assessments, student assignments, buildings and maintenance, public relations, distribution and oversight of district budget, district personnel, and capital outlay."

Philip Mana, an experienced teacher, was quoted by Glickman as stating, "What makes a good school is a feeling shared by the entire staff that . . .their school belongs to them . . . when an individual school community feels it’s really in control of it’s destiny, teachers, parents, and administrators are more inclined to do hundreds of little things it takes to make their school work. This feeling only forms when a particular school community is given the freedom and authority to try what they believe is best for their students." GAE philosophically agrees with Mr. Mana and Professor Glickman.

The North Carolina education reform law was based upon a model which includes state and federal goals for all public schools. Local boards of education and individual school faculties were empowered to develop plans to meet these goals on the local level. The North Carolina law requires the following: "Local School Administration units shall participate in the School-Based Management and Accountability Program. The School-Based Management and Accountability Program shall provide increased local control of schools with the goal of improving student performance. Local boards of education are allowed flexibility in the expenditure of state funds and may be granted waivers of certain laws and policies."

There is a major difference between site-based management and site-based decision-making. Site- based management empowers the school administration to make decisions. Site-based decision-making adds more control at the school level and empowers the faculty, administration, teachers, staff, parents, and school community to make collective decisions on goals established to improve student learning. Therefore, the entire school community leaders must be involved when site-based decision-making is required.

Several years ago, the National Education Association conducted a nationwide survey of teachers that explored the ability of teachers to participate in decision-making in their school buildings. Teachers were asked 16 questions in five broad areas: organizational policies, the student-teacher interface, teacher development and evaluation, work allocation, and the teaching process itself. Over half the teachers surveyed felt that they seldom or never had the opportunity to participate in making decisions in 11 of the 16 decision-making categories. The study further revealed that teacher opportunities to make decisions diminished in moving from the classroom to the building itself. Most teachers felt that with the exception of "how to teach" (in which a majority of the teachers believed they had sufficient opportunity to make decisions), their opportunity to make decisions should be increased in every category of decision-making on which they were surveyed. These findings are similar to those reported by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission when asked to identify reasons for teacher turnover. The Commission said that teachers indicate a lack of support for any non-teaching decisions they make.

Glickman reiterated this goal writing, "Rules and procedures from local boards and state boards cannot improve schools where employees are knowledgeable, caring, and intelligent. In fact, such rules and procedures often make the education of students worse by driving such talented educators away. Smart people don’t work well in places where their own thinking is systematically discouraged." This profound statement identifies the problem faced by many Georgia educators who believe they are not free to be innovative, creative, and involved in the decision making process.

The need to be involved in decisions that affect one’s working life is powerful. Involvement in decision-making frequently is the criterion that divides those who feel satisfied and effective from those who do not. In public education today, teachers, other education employees, and parents feel a significant lack of involvement in school-level decision-making. Site-based decision-making brings authority and responsibility to the faculty level and student achievement improves. In fact, Glickman reported, "The states with the highest gains in student achievement have sent a message to each individual school that, "You are responsible for improved student learning."

For example, the West Virginia education reform movement included a provision for the faculty and staff at each school to elect a "Faculty Senate." The Senate is composed of teachers, administrators, and other staff and meets regularly to make school-based decisions. Since the Senate is chosen by staff members, confidence in their decisions and support for achieving established goals and objectives are evident. All educators believe they are working together to improve the school climate and student performance.

Site-based decision-making represents an approach to solving problems and issues by encouraging change. Teams of parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders form a governance structure responsible for initiating local school policies to improve student achievement, discipline, and safety, and encourage quality teaching to build a positive community school. Ongoing school improvement efforts demonstrate that the scope and structure of the site-based decision-making effort change dramatically over time. A site-based decision-making effort may initially have modest goals that relate to the building facility or to student discipline, but as these issues are successfully addressed, the site-based decision-making effort expands to include other areas more central to the education process, such as curriculum and staff development.

Over time, site-based decision-makers should be encouraged to develop a peer review evaluation system and make staffing decisions including the hiring and deployment of personnel, empowered to spend funds for needed classroom and learning materials, expected to develop school operation procedures, rules, and policies, and encouraged to work cooperatively as a team dedicated to improving student achievement and performance.

Site-based decision-making will enhance education by making school structures more responsive to diverse educational needs by expanding opportunities for education employees to access and implement good ideas. Teaching is more attractive as a profession by enriching the work of the education support personnel, by facilitating system-wide integration of educational programs, and by expanding opportunities for education employees to contribute knowledge about teaching, learning, and successful and effective practices. In addition, site-based decision-making fosters employee empowerment by improving problem-solving skills and opportunities, expanding the areas of authority and influence, increasing the control over school-level decisions that affect their professional responsibilities and effectiveness of the school, increasing the ability to assess and analyze current programs, encouraging collegiality, and nurturing the self-esteem of education employees as individuals and as a group.

GAE already has developed and begun implementation of an Educator’s Partnership Plan (EPP) to encourage site-based decision-making in the areas of school safety, student learning, and teacher quality. GAE has provided funding for EPP grants to begin the site-based decision-making process.

It is important to remember that teachers, school administrators, and parents also are committed to providing high-quality education to all students. The fact that this commitment is a shared interest should constitute a starting point for a cooperative endeavor. Therefore, concentration of power at the top in centralized decision-making systems is associated with a lack of organizational coherence and with rigidity that stifles individual initiatives. These centralized, hierarchical systems are ineffective - - unfortunately they typify most public school systems in Georgia and across the United States.

As education reform has unfolded, the focus of the movement has shifted from a preoccupation with the individual teacher to a focus on individual schools and school districts. Because public schools have become inextricably linked to our economic health and business needs have become more acute, there is an increasing external pressure on schools to open up channels of authority and communication. In order to build public confidence and achieve high educational standards, decision- making must be shared and all educators must be provided authority and responsibility.

With site-based decision-making, each school will be bound by an agreement between the school and district for meeting academic standards as outlined in the accountability legislation. Schools that continue to perform below standards will be placed on an improvement plan developed by an education care team comprised of master educators. The probationary period will include expectations for improved student performance and schools failing to measure up to the goals and standards of the district will be reconstituted. Everyone involved, teachers, staff, administrators, and school board members, will be held accountable for failure to meet expected outcomes.