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City School Management Study: 'The System Must Break With the Past'


Working for Associated Black Charities, the national management consulting firm Towers Perrin presented a management study of the Baltimore schools to the school board Thursday. Here are excerpts from the study:

Over the past decade the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) have undergone a series of management changes and organizational restructurings. Change efforts typically have focused on modifying organizational arrangements and reporting relationships; they have not focused on changing the way children are taught nor have they addressed the fundamental roles that the central office and schools should play in providing educational services.

The last thing the Baltimore City Public Schools need is to undergo another reorganization that gives the illusion of progress while masking the fact that very little has changed in the way educational services are delivered to students. On the contrary, if the BCPS is to achieve its goal of improving student achievement, the system must break with the past and move in a bold new direction. The fundamental relationship between the central office and the schools must be realigned, management systems that encourage and reward responsive service and creativity must be established, and a culture must emerge in which managers at all levels take responsibility and are held accountable for results.


The difficulties associated with educating a large, substantially disadvantaged student population with diverse educational and economic needs are compounded in the

Baltimore City Public Schools by a number of factors.

Money is limited. The BCPS does not have the option of trying to spend its way to success. The fiscal realities are that the system must achieve its objectives without substantial increases in funding.

Administrator quality is inconsistent. The system is fortunate to have a number of capable staffers who are dedicated to educating Baltimore City's school children. On the other hand, in interviews conducted as part of this study many managers and staff indicated that many school-based and central office administrators are less competent.

The culture does not support effective management. The system's culture has not placed a premium on effective management. Holding individuals and groups accountable for achieving results has not been a management value. Moreover, the prevailing culture does not reinforce the importance of providing high quality services to schools.

Attitudes are entrenched. Many system administrators have experienced numerous leadership changes and organizational realignments. In interviews, many of these managers expressed skepticism about whether changes proposed by the current leadership will have any substantive impact on system operations. Attitudes expressed range from resigned acceptance ("I'll do what they tell me to do but it won't make any difference") to passive resistance ("I've seen administrations come and go, and I just keep doing my job the same way") to active resistance ("I refuse to change the way I do things").

Union contract provisions are generous. Policies that have been negotiated with its unions hamper the system's ability to operate efficiently and effectively.

Relationships with the city are cumbersome. The city's tight control of certain human resources, purchasing and financial processes hampers the system's ability to operate effectively.

Both time and political patience are short. Community and political leaders have also observed numerous leadership changes and organizational realignments that have made little difference in student achievement. Community leaders are anxious for quick improvement in student performance.

Creating a Network

To successfully overcome the challenges facing it, the system must fundamentally change the way it does business. It should recast itself as a "network of enterprise schools," each of which ,, has the authority and autonomy to make a difference in student learning.

* Enterprise Schools

The BCPS leadership has embraced site-based management as key to its overall effort to improve student achievement. Principals, as instructional leaders, are in the best position to mobilize resources and develop instructional strategies that will

result in children learning more.

Principals of enterprise schools should be given the authority and autonomy to manage all of their school's resources; to make key decisions about selecting, evaluating, training and terminating staff assigned to their school; to determine what support services are needed; and to design and implement an effective instructional program. In exchange for this authority and autonomy, principals should be held accountable for their school's performance.

Planning plays a key role in the recommended system. Principals should be required to develop a detailed plan which specifies how student learning will be achieved; the performance measures that will be used to evaluate achievement; the configuration of staff; and the central office services and other support needed. In developing this plan, the principal should have the flexibility to change curriculum, class structure, learning environment, use of parents and community resources, or other factors that affect learning. (A detailed school budget that is linked to this plan should also be developed.)

The supervisors of principals should focus primarily on coaching and assisting principals regarding planning and delivering educational services. In addition, the supervisors of principals should evaluate principal performance and monitor progress against the plan.

Over time, all schools should become enterprise schools. It is important to stress, to principals, however, that having increased autonomy at the school level should be considered a privilege, not a right. Children will suffer if principals who are given a high level of autonomy do not have a commensurate level of ability. Consequently, it is extremely important that only managers who achieve desired results be granted autonomy. Designation as an enterprise school should be current: it should be removed if the school ceases to meet performance goals. Principals who do not achieve desired results should receive assistance. Those who fail repeatedly should be replaced.

* Service Delivery To Schools

A central implication of site-based management is that the need for support services provided to schools should be determined at the school level. The most efficient way to ensure that services provided by the central office correspond with school needs is for the central office to take a market-based approach. Under a market-based system principals should have, as part of their overall budget, sufficient funds to purchase needed services from the central office. Principals will use the funds to purchase services only if they perceive they are receiving value for their expenditures. Central office programs and services that are not supported by school expenditures should be discontinued. Since central office staff positions providing services to schools will depend on their ability to identify and cost-effectively meet school needs, the central office staff will have a very strong incentive to be responsive to schools.

* Accountability

Accountability must be the cornerstone of any effort to improve BTC the long-term performance of the Baltimore City Public Schools. A properly structured accountability system can be used to evaluate progress in achieving system objectives, focus managers' attention on controlling costs, and provide a basis for evaluating and rewarding success. In addition, accountability plays a central role in determining the extent to which principals should be allowed to operate their schools autonomously, in assessing the types of assistance needed by principals who are not performing as desired, and in identifying and weeding out poor performers.

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