Ouchi on decentralization

A talk about decentralization of schools, by William Ouchi. US schools are highly centralized and Ouchi's ideas about a return to local control has merit and could be a first step toward a much larger decentralization.  He cites a stat about principals who control less than 6% of financial decisions at their school and that seems inefficient.   I remember voting for a site-based management plan in Los Angeles many years ago.

Surfing around, there have been a lot of studies on decentralization and a surprising number say something like no one knows what decentralization means exactly. Clearly, changing a power structure is difficult.  In addition, it would not seem to be something that could easily be done partially as the entire remote control apparatus of testing, standards and accreditation would all remain in place.  The fact is that this top-heavy administrative layer has grown very large and like the financial layer, it is causing problems by virtue of its size.

Ouchi discusses decentralization in the sense of enabling local school officials to make school decisions of consequence.  He wants to devolve more power down lower from above within a hierarchical administrative model. The base idea of Ouchi's has merit, but it is important to grasp that real change can only be had by decentralization that greatly broadens the base by bringing families and children into the administrative structure in the sense that they would be active rather than passive participants.

Rather than an administrative structure on top of a huge population of students, the students and their families would become partners in the work. This would stabilize and democratize the hierarchical structure and I think it would add unexpected depth to the structure (so we are adding two dimensions to a one-dimensional administrative model) by creating new social networks between students, families and schools that would be extensive and would entirely reshape the social experience of schools.

An efficient business model instead of a factory model for education is still not an adequate model for schools because schools are not businesses.  Children/students are not employees and it is mind-boggling to think that schools were supposed to replace child labor  and now we have administrators trying to run schools like businesses.   (Perhaps a transition business model would be one like Google: free high-quality food, massages, bikes, and every student gets 10-20% time for their choice of activities.)  Ouchi's ideas do not address the core issue of school change:  the dysfunctional, and militaristic, relationship between the school and the families and children it should serve.

This would be the most efficient, humane, and change-making way to improve this institution. Local schools and families taking real control of their learning would establish a healthy relationship between this currently mass institution and the family: it would anchor the institution locally and to the people involved.  And the users of this service would drive what was done.  This would mean greater efficiency and greater social networking and far more opportunities for conservation of resources and sharing. These stronger community relationships would create a soil from which we could grow many good things like real economies and happy lives.

Relationships are fundamental to education and, like all institutions in a democracy, good relationships at the lowest possible level are foundational and stabilizing.  Conversely, inequality is dangerous precisely because of this disconnection of top from bottom, like a plant fed synthetic fertilizer that is top heavy and malformed from growing too fast.  We have some overgrown institutions that have weak root structures and are tall but quite spindly. The strength of a structure is in its cohesion and relationship of parts. We must broaden and deepen the structure of the institution to make it sustainable.




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