Decentralized Decision-Making for Schools: New Promise for an Old Idea?

August 2005

This paper is published in Rand Occasional Papers, 2005

This paper argues that decentralizing decisionmaking authority to schools is a reform worthy of a new look, despite the perceived failure of earlier school-based management (SBM) efforts to improve student performance. SBM as it was implemented in districts and schools did not produce significant changes in institutional structure. Constraints on schools were not effectively relaxed; school-based decisionmaking authority in some areas was nullified by continuing constraints in others. Most notably, principals in the United States gained little authority over their budgets.

The need to boost school performance significantly in the next few years to meet federal and state accountability goals demands new ways of helping principals do their jobs more effectively. Decentralized decisionmaking for schools (DDS) should be explored in light of lessons learned from implementation of meaningful school-level autonomy in a few American districts and in England.

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