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At various times in U.S. history, the decentralization of governmental decisionmaking has forced a redistribution of power away from a central authority to several local authorities. In the realm of public education, site-based management (SBM) is one form of decentralization that devolves budgetary, instructional and/or other decisionmaking authority from centralized school administrations to individual schools. The rationale behind SBM is that those closest to the student are most capable of making important decisions that will lead to change and improvement. Creating school autonomy and empowering teachers, principals, school administrators, parents and other community members through participatory decisionmaking are central tenets of site-based management.

Schools that decide to implement SBM typically create school-site councils. Countless forms of school-site councils have been created with various numbers of any of the following stakeholders as members: parents, community members, teachers, principals or school administrators. Site-based management typically takes one of four different forms: administrative control, professional control, community control or equal control.

In almost every state, some school districts practice site-based management to one degree or another, and five states (Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas) currently mandate site-based management in every school. From an international perspective, every school system in New Zealand now practices SBM and 15 other countries have SBM councils. Comparing the percentage of school councils present in the United States with those in other countries shows the U.S. ranking near the bottom in terms of percent of schools using SBM councils.

Early research on SBM produced some promising findings, but concluded that school-based management, unless well-designed and well-implemented, had few positive effects. One study noted an "awesome gap" between the rhetoric and the reality of SBM's contribution to school improvement. More recently, however, several studies have suggested that SBM leads to improvements in school culture, classroom practices and student learning.


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