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.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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