Ouchi is almost right and late to the party

Bill Ouchi, back in EdWeek, is still pitching decentralization a decade after a bunch of us showed that it was a thin theory.  In nearby districts, John Stanford and I both did the 100 flowers approach with pretty thin accountability.  We assumed that people knew what to do and would take the initiative to do it.  As Payzant and others have shown, earn autonomy makes more sense–give people that know what they’re doing clear autonomy and accountability (i.e., the charter bargain).
Decentralization works when 1) there’s a high bar for autonomy and 2) you go out of business when you don’t perform.  Most districts and even charter authorizers make the bargain far too muddy.
Ouchi underestimates the power of networks–charter management networks in particular. Most are not decentralized, they are aligned instructional systems that execute well.
Bill finally read Sizer and figured out that student load is a big deal at the secondary level–it’s obviously more reasonable to try to teach 75 kids than 150.   This concept has been central to CES and the small school movement for 15 years.  Given the complete lack of innovation diffusion, the common sense idea is relegated to a small percentage of high schools.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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