Saturday, November 22, 2014

The role of management in schools

Fascinating new paper by Nick Bloom and three others which compares management practices in high schools in 8 countries across the world, including India. Their finding is that improving management could be an important way to raise school standards,
Autonomous government schools (i.e. government funded but with substantial independence like UK academies and US charters) have significantly higher management scores than regular government schools and private schools. Almost half of the difference between the management scores of autonomous government schools and regular government schools is accounted for by differences in leadership of the principal and better governance...
Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key features that account for a large fraction of the superior management performance of such schools... Autonomy by itself is unlikely to deliver better results, however, finding ways to improve governance and motivate principals are likely to be key to make sure decentralized power leads to better standards.
The differences in the quality of management in all types of schools among different countries is captured in the graphic below. The good management tail is virtually absent in India. This is in line with management practices elsewhere in India - fractions of manufacturing firms, hospitals, and schools, scoring above 3 is 22%, 10%, and 1.6% respectively.
Another graphic captures the difference in management scores across different types of schools - public, autonomous public, and private - in each country. Note that, unlike other countries, the aided schools do almost as bad as others while the private schools stand out as far better than others. Difficult to say whether the latter finding is a testament to the quality of private schools or its near-total absence in public schools.
A few observations.

1. The poor performance of aided schools in India is a testament to the deeply politicized and corrupt nature of allotment of these schools. Interestingly, Brazil runs its autonomous schools, which receive most of its funding from government, with such great success. In other words, there appears to be a massive "discount" associated with any activity that involves interface with government.

2. I see Prof Bloom's studies on management practices in business enterprises and now schools as important in highlighting the important role of guidance, monitoring, and supervision in the success of any enterprise, private or public. Given the poor quality of these attributes in public (and private) systems, a reflection of state capability deficiency, there is a terrific opportunity here. But I am not sure whether the conventional strategies to improve governance quality can be effective here.

3. There is a strong case (the high coefficient for India on Table II, Column 6 is reflective of this) that the quality of management is the foundation on which the various standard schooling inputs work their way. In other words, even if the students and teachers attend school regularly, the school has all physical infrastructure, and children are equipped with learning materials, the effectiveness in translation of teaching into learning is strongly dependent on the quality of management (leadership, governance, guidance, capacity building etc). In other words, the poor management of Indian schools may be having a value subtracting effect on the other interventions. 

No comments: