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About The Book

Introducing a bold, persuasive new argument into the national debate over education, Dr. William Ouchi describes a revolutionary approach to creating successful public schools.
This program has produced significant, lasting improvements in the school districts where it has already been implemented. Drawing on the results of a landmark study of 223 schools in six cities, a project that Ouchi supervised and that was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, Making Schools Work shows that a school's educational performance may be most directly affected by how the school is managed.
Ouchi's 2001-2002 study examined innovative school systems in Edmonton (Canada), Seattle, and Houston, and compared them with the three largest traditional school systems: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Researchers discovered that the schools that consistently performed best also had the most decentralized management systems, in which autonomous principals -- not administrators in a central office -- controlled school budgets and personnel hiring policies. They were fully responsible and fully accountable for the performance of their schools. With greater freedom and flexibility to shape their educational programs, hire specialists as needed, and generally determine the direction of their school, the best principals will act as entrepreneurs, says Ouchi. Those who do poorly are placed under the supervision of successful principals, who assume responsibility for the failing schools.
An essential component of this management approach is the Weighted Student Formula, a budgetary tool whereby every student is evaluated and assessed a certain dollar value in educational services (a non-English-speaking or autistic student, or one from a low-income family, for example, would receive a higher dollar value than a middle-class student with no special needs). Families have the freedom to choose among public schools, and when schools must compete for students, good schools flourish while those that do poorly literally go out of business.
Such accountability has long worked for religious and independent schools, where parents pay a premium for educational performance. Making Schools Work shows how the same approach can be adapted to public schools. The book also provides guidelines for parents on how to evaluate a school and make sure their child is getting the best education possible.
Revolutionary yet practical, Making Schools Work shows that positive educational reform is within reach and, indeed, already happening in schools across the country.


Chapter One: The Best Schools in America -- Problems and Solutions

Welcome to the Goudy School: Where the Future Dies Early.

-- Chicago Schools: Worst in America (1988)

The year was 1988, and William Bennett was secretary of education. Americans were furious over the continued failure of their public schools. To galvanize the nation's attention on this issue, Bennett visited the city of Chicago and declared that its public schools were the worst in the nation, and he singled out one school as the city's worst failure, and thus, by inference, the worst school in America: the Goudy Elementary School, pre-kindergarten through 8, located in Uptown/Edgewater. Uptown/ Edgewater is a blue-collar, immigrant neighborhood on the far north end where twenty-six languages are spoken every day. The teachers, students, and families were devastated by the negative publicity. Within the year, the Illinois legislature moved quickly to pass a new law that gave local control to individual schools to free them from the shackles of the massive, top-down bureaucracy of the superintendent's central office.

Fourteen years later, under the leadership of Principal Patrick Durkin, Goudy has risen like a phoenix. Goudy has an official capacity of 850 students, but today it is packed with 938 children, all of them from the neighborhood. Ninety-eight percent of the students are from low-income homes and thus qualify for free or reduced-price lunches under a federal program; 41 percent are classified as limited-English-proficient. On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills used in all Chicago schools, reading scores have risen from the 14.9th percentile to an astounding 56th -- above the state and national averages. Math scores have also skyrocketed, from the 24.7th percentile to the 63rd. This in a school that has a student population that is 29 percent Hispanic, 28 percent Asian-Pacific, 22 percent white, and 21 percent black (I sometimes refer to students as black or Hispanic and other times as African-American or Latino. In each case, I'm using the form that the school district uses in its official reports). Virtually every eighth grader from Goudy takes the test to enter one of Chicago's elite test-in high schools like Northside College Prep, Lane Tech, Lincoln Park, or Whitney Young.

How did Patrick Durkin produce this miracle? Our study shows that he, like the other successful principals described here, relied on a set of management principles that I call the Seven Keys to Success. He used his freedom to custom-design a school that would exactly fit the needs of his unique population of students. No other school in America has precisely the same situation, and thus no other school should be quite like Goudy. Understanding that, the principal set out to craft the right school for his children.

Patrick Durkin is an entrepreneur. That is, he's the opposite of a bureaucrat -- he doesn't follow rules blindly, he keeps his eye focused on his main goal, which is to see that his students succeed. He operates under another rule: that it's easier and better to ask forgiveness from the central office after taking action than to ask permission beforehand. He expects to be held accountable for results. Durkin knew what to do with his newfound freedom allowing local control. He focused everyone on student achievement, not complaining about the poor children who were in the neighborhood, but seeking to do right by every last one of them. To accomplish this task, he delegated most of the decisions to his teachers, who chose their own approach to teaching reading and math.

Durkin moved quickly to take control of all of the money that the new law allowed him to use at his discretion. He and his teachers decided, for example, to place an intense focus on reading, with everyone spending ninety minutes on reading in small classes of no more than twenty, and he added a teaching aide to every class in grades 1 through 4. Durkin also made sure that every teacher felt accountable for the progress of his or her students. He instituted a system in which every student is tested on reading level when he first enrolls, and then is measured for progress.

To help the students from China, Mexico, Africa, the West Indies, Poland, Albania, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Bosnia who have trouble with reading, he added two reading recovery teachers who tutor each child one-on-one. His teachers did their own research and imported a program from New Zealand that in six or seven weeks can help a child who is in danger of falling behind in reading. Today, virtually all of the children are reading by the end of first grade.

In order to put the resources in grades K-4 where they were most needed, the teachers decided on larger class sizes in the later grades. In one fifth-grade class, for example, thirty-two children are intent on their work -- and they are not distracted when visitors enter the classroom. An eighth-grade class has thirty-four children eating a late lunch at their desks, because there is no other place. Breakfast and lunch are served in the auditorium, which then is closed for another reading program for groups of twenty at a time. Goudy has no new buildings, but it needed space for these newly created activities, so the former book storage room and the teachers' office space were converted to that use. Durkin designed teachers' desks that would fit along one wall in the wide hallway. The small library is full to overflowing, and it has received donations of 25,000 brand-new books from the Starbucks Corporation over the past few years.

Principal Pat Durkin loves his school. That's clear to any visitor. He's the kind of principal who insists on taking visitors to see every single class in the building. He knows in detail what is going on in each class and what progress the students are making. The teachers are visibly fond of him and each one greets him warmly. He knows most of the students by name. Even the reading recovery teachers, who work in what was formerly the school's safe -- which still has the impregnable steel door -- have smiles for the principal. Because Pat Durkin has the freedom to choose his own teachers, he has only teachers who share his passion for the school's mission, and the results speak for themselves. Goudy Elementary has become more than just a school -- it's become a community of learners that includes teachers, students, and families.

If the worst school in America can become one of the best, then every school can be a success. Pat Durkin, please note, did not make a wholesale change in his teachers or his students. The only changes that he made were in the way the school was organized and managed. If you had to change all of your school district's teachers to improve it, you'd be understandably gloomy about the future. The good news in this book, though, is that you don't have to change the teachers or the students -- you only have to change the way that your schools are managed, and that is entirely within the realm of the possible. If the same teachers and the same students can go from the cellar to the penthouse as at Goudy, then it can be done elsewhere. For those who believe that an inner-city school made up of immigrants from homes in poverty cannot achieve at high academic levels, Goudy proves otherwise. Every school in America can and should be this good, and you can help to make them so. Before we get on with the process of how to do this, though, let's briefly review some of the troubles that our schools face today, and let's identify the reasons that most of them are still in the cellar.


Our schools are failing -- everyone knows it. School board meetings have become battlefields as angry parents are on the attack and central office bureaucrats strap on their helmets and hunker down. In New York, the state legislature has admitted that the New York City schools are failing and, in desperation, has given control to Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The New York Times reported on July 11, 2002, that only 29.5 percent of the city's eighth graders passed the state English test, lower than the year before and lower still than in 1999, when the current test was first used. The really bad news, according to the newspaper, is that students in Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo are doing even worse. In New England, the Boston Globe reported in February 2002 that the charter school movement to secede from the public system has grown to the point that it now is battling increasing opposition from public school officials.

In April 2002, Governor Mark S. Schweiker of Pennsylvania assumed control of the failed Philadelphia school district and hired several private firms to manage this system in which more than half the students cannot pass basic reading and math tests. Several months later, Philadelphia hired former Chicago superintendent Paul Vallas to turn its district around. On July 10, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carried the front-page headline: "Foundations Yank City School Grants." The paper quoted William Trueheart, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation: "It's clear the school system is in a crisis." Education Week reported in March that the Detroit Board of Education had to "abruptly adjourn" its meeting amid "emotional chants and songs of protesters" and that the Dallas Board of Education called a sudden recess due to a scuffle with a speaker and then located observers to a separate room to watch the remainder of the meeting over closed-circuit television.

Our nation also has a persistent gap in educational attainment between races. While 93 percent of white students graduate from high school, only 63 percent of Hispanics and 87 percent of blacks do so. Writers such as Jonathan Kozol have argued that this gap is a result of embedded racism, which leaves students of color with underfunded, abandoned schools. He may be right, but we have found many schools that are successfully educating poor minority students -- thus demonstrating, as we'll see, that good management of a school can overcome all kinds of obstacles.

We are in the midst of a rising national debate over K-12 education as more and more parents reach the point where they won't take it any more. They've lost confidence in the ability of school boards and superintendents to fix the problems and have turned to mayors and governors to get the job done. But what will these politicians do that hasn't already been tried? In other words, why are the schools failing, and what needs to be fixed?


There are three basic theories that we hear from education experts, school officials, and the press to explain the failure of our schools: first, the teachers aren't any good, and they are the source of the failure; second, the students, especially minority students, just aren't able or willing to learn; and third, we have to spend more money on our schools to improve them. All three of these theories are wrong. Instead, I offer to you the management theory. Consider this: when a business is failing, the owners don't blame the customers, the front-line employees, or the budget -- they go after the management and shake them up. There's nothing wrong with the students or the teachers, and most (though not all) school systems already have enough money to do the job well. It's the management of school districts that needs to be changed. I have visited 223 schools in nine school systems and have carried out a carefully designed study of the management systems in all of them. I found that some entire districts are succeeding wonderfully while others are failing. What separates the successes from the failures is not different teachers, students, or money -- it's their approach to managing the schools.

Teacher-bashing has become the favorite sport of politicians and superintendents who don't know what to do about the schools -- and are looking for someone to blame. Their criticisms don't hold water, though. Scholars such as Dr. Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and New York University education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch observe that while teacher preparation is better than ever, student scores have not improved. This leads to the conclusion that the fundamental problem is not the teachers.

Others will argue, although in guarded tones, that the basic problem is the students. These critics believe that public schools in suburban areas with mostly white students are doing fine, but that urban schools with mostly minority students are the ones in trouble. At bottom, these people believe that African-American and Hispanic students either can't or won't learn, that it's hopeless to try to improve their schools. The result of this attitude has been chronicled by Jonathan Kozol in his devastating critique, Savage Inequalities (New York: Crown, 1991). Kozol points out that schools of mostly minority children in East St. Louis (Illinois), New York City, and other cities never have a chance to succeed because they are prejudged to be inevitable failures.

To these people I say, let me tell you about the View Park Prep Charter School in Los Angeles. View Park is 99 percent African-American and 1 percent Latino, in grades K-7. In the most recent Stanford 9 standardized tests, its fifth graders scored on the average in the 77th percentile in language, the 78th percentile in spelling, and the 81st percentile in math -- better than any of the four elementary schools in Beverly Hills. View Park (and other similar schools we've found across the nation) isn't widely known to parents, but it should be. Schools such as this are living proof that the problem is not with the children. The key question is, what is it that makes View Park Prep a great school, and how can we make every school -- including those in Beverly Hills -- just as good?

Another argument, especially from school district officials and the leaders of teachers' unions, is that the fundamental problem is money -- we aren't spending enough per child on education. After investigating this allegation, I now believe that we've been fed a line of baloney by self-serving bureaucrats who seek to shift the blame for their failures to mayors, governors, and the public.

Consider these facts in the Los Angeles Unified School District as an example: the annual operating budget per student for 2001-02 was $9,889. On top of that, the district budgets $2,810 per student for school construction and renovation and $375 per student for debt service. Add it all up, and it's a total of $13,074 per student per year. By comparison, a study by the Los Angeles Business Journal shows that for twenty-five private schools in Los Angeles, the average annual tuition is only $7,091, and our research shows that the 298 Catholic schools in the city spend an average of $2,500 per student in elementary schools and $5,100 per student in high school.

In New York City, the operating budget is a whopping $11,994 per student. Add to that the annual budget of $2,298 per student for school construction and renovation and debt service, and the total spending is $14,292 per student per year. That amount doesn't even include bus and subway fees, which come out of the mayor's budget. Both New York City and Los Angeles spend more than the average tuition of $11,246 for the 851 independent day schools that are affiliated with the National Association of Independent Schools.

The problem is not that there isn't enough money in public schools. School districts like New York City and Los Angeles have already raised teacher pay, they've reduced class size, they've bought the latest reading books and computers, yet nothing seems to work. The salespeople for new approaches keep coming and the school boards keep buying, but things don't get any better.

Everyone is looking in the wrong place, focusing on the wrong things. It's a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. The research that went into this book will show you that it's the way schools are managed that makes the difference. Here's just one example of how good management makes for a good school: have you ever wondered why some schools have lots of good teachers -- even the ones who are new to teaching -- while other schools seem to have few good teachers? It's the management. Good management both attracts dedicated teachers and creates the environment in which all teachers do their best every day.


In order to get a good overview of schools, we need to look at them in two ways: first, at several school districts so that we can compare them to each other; and second, at several schools within each district. Our basic guess, drawn from studies of business, was that school districts that are run in a very special way that allows principals to be entrepreneurs -- managers who take the initiative rather than taking orders -- would be more successful. In order to test this idea, we needed to choose a range of school districts -- from some that give principals very little leeway to others in which individual schools have all of the decision-making power. You may have read lots of research about the management of schools, but few people have studied the way that the school districts are organized and managed. We've found that it's the management of the entire district that is the important factor, the one that determines whether each school will have the local autonomy that it needs to adjust to its specific circumstances, or not. If the district is run properly, all of the schools in it will be successful. If not, all schools will suffer, and only those few principals who are willing to buck the central office will succeed. In time even they will tire of the conflict and will retire early or burn out.

In order to create our sample, we chose four types of school systems. First, we selected the three largest and, by reputation, most centralized, top-down districts in the United States: New York City, with 1.1 million students; Los Angeles, with 723,000 students; and Chicago, with 435,000 (all in 2001). We took several measurements to determine whether they were truly centralized. Next, we chose three little known but very successful school districts, all of which had turned themselves around supposedly by creating lots of entrepreneurs -- Edmonton, Canada, with 81,000 students; Seattle, Washington, with 47,000; and Houston, Texas, with 209,000. Here, too, we measured them and found that all three are successful because of the radically different way that these districts are run.

The third set of schools consisted of the three largest Catholic school districts in the United States. These were Chicago, with about 128,000 students; New York City, with approximately 115,000 students; and Los Angeles, with approximately 103,000. We chose these Catholic school districts because they are often said to be loosely affiliated networks of schools in which each school has great local autonomy. We wanted to find out if that is a correct perception, and if so, we wanted to see what the greater autonomy does for a typical Catholic school.

Finally, we selected a group of six independent schools -- one in each of our six cities -- because independent schools, as their name implies, have the ultimate in local freedom -- they report to no higher authority. Now we had a range -- from schools that are believed to have almost no freedom to be entrepreneurial to those that have complete freedom to rise or fall on their own decisions.

We visited at least 5 percent of the schools in each district, more than 5 percent in the small districts. For example, we visited sixty-six public schools in New York City and forty-one in Los Angeles. In all, we visited 223 schools. In each case, we interviewed the principal, gathered information on student performance and on how the school was managed, and had a tour of classrooms. Along the way, I had the rare chance that few parents ever have to ask lots of experienced principals and teachers how to spot a good school and a good classroom. In this book, you'll learn everything that I learned on those subjects.

Finally, we visited the headquarters of each school district several times. We interviewed the chancellor or superintendent and other top officials. We spent a great deal of time understanding the budgets, the accountability systems, and the achievement of students. We talked to the inspector general in every district that has one, along with the internal auditor, in order to find out which kinds of school districts have more waste and corruption, and which have less.

What we've seen are some entire school districts that are succeeding and others that are failing. The picture is one that provokes in me a strong emotional reaction, because I now know that any school superintendent who follows certain management principles can create success -- and that there is no excuse for not making every school a success. I have boiled down these lessons into an essence of seven key elements that distinguish successful schools and school districts, and in this book I pass them along to you so that you can help your school to be successful. Let's review them in summary form, and then we'll expand on each one in the chapters to follow.


Successful school districts are the ones that have learned how to keep several important elements in balance. For example, they give teachers and principals the freedom to be entrepreneurs, to identify and solve their own problems with their own unique solutions, while at the same time collecting information on what is going on and intervening when necessary. This is impossible to do in a traditional, old-fashioned school district -- which unfortunately means most school districts. To build a really top-flight school district, you have to embrace dramatic changes in how things are run. What is called for, and what the successful districts have done, is to uproot the existing top-down way of doing things and replace it with huge, revolutionary change.


  1. Every principal is an entrepreneur

  2. Every school controls its own budget

  3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets

  4. Everyone delegates authority to those below

  5. There is a burning focus on student achievement

  6. Every school is a community of learners

  7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools

Let's review each of these seven elements.

1. Every principal is an entrepreneur

An entrepreneur is the opposite of a bureaucrat. Bureaucrats, especially good ones, know the rules backwards and forwards and always follow them. In a routine, stable situation, that's a good thing. When confronted with the nonroutine, though, bureaucrats cannot act until a higher-up gives them a new rule that they can follow. In schools, where each day brings new and previously unknown situations, bureaucracy is deadly. Bureaucracy is not limited to large, urban school districts. Even small, suburban districts can become rulebound. Bureaucracy flourishes wherever customers have no choice. Bureaucrats act the way they do because they can get away with ignoring customers. Don't blame the people who work in those kinds of organizations, because if you worked there, you'd probably act like a bureaucrat, too. Do blame the organization and its managers -- they know better, and it's up to them to see that customers matter, especially those customers, namely, students who have no choice but the public schools. In business, health care, and education, you will find bureaucracy in both large and small organizations.

Every school district, even old-fashioned, top-down, rulebound school districts, has a few entrepreneurs. And in successful school districts, everyone is an entrepreneur in spirit and in behavior. Usually, an entrepreneurial principal in a bureaucratic district is viewed by the central office as a renegade, an outlaw, and a troublemaker. She fights for her teachers and students every day, hangs way out there taking chances with the central office, and gets no thanks from above for her accomplishments.

2. Every school controls its own budget

It's now considered politically expedient to be in favor of local neighborhood control for schools, rather than central office dictatorship. Almost every school district has adopted school-based management, school-site management, local school councils, or something similar. Your superintendent surely claims to be granting great leeway to each school to make its own decisions. Chances are, though, that he's lying to you. Fortunately, when you know what to ask, it's easy to tell the difference between talk and action concerning neighborhood control.

Ask your principal how much money he has in his budget this year. We did this at every school that we visited. In the top-down, old-fashioned districts, more than 90 percent of the principals gave us a puzzled look in response. They didn't know how much money their school had! At one high school in Los Angeles, the principal asked if we really needed to know the budget numbers. When we said that we did, she went to her assistant principal for administration and came back with the answer:

"It's $50 million this year." We expressed doubt that it was that high and suggested that she look it up on the school district Web site. She did and reported that the number was actually $21 million! "But it doesn't really matter," she continued, "because I only control $32,000."

You might find this alarming, but she didn't. Most principals around the nation don't care what their budget is because they aren't allowed to decide how to spend it. Most of the control lies in the central office, which sends the schools teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, nurses, custodians, guards, and so on. The central office does not send the money to a school and allow it to decide whom to hire. It does the thinking for the principal. Which would be okay except that the bureaucrats in central don't know nearly as well as the principal what the school actually needs.

When your superintendent claims at parent meetings or in the newspapers that he or she has established local school parent councils and has decentralized the management of the district, smile sweetly and ask him what percent of the budget each principal controls. You'll be aghast at the answer. Ignore everything that you hear about local control except how much money is subject to local control. Follow the money -- that's where the control lies.

3. Everyone is accountable for student performance and for budgets

"Accountability" has become one of the most overused words in all of education. Politicians demand school accountability, superintendents vow to demand it, and businesspeople who become involved in school reform often conclude that it's at the root of the whole problem. To these people, accountability means getting tough on teachers. It's really just another form of teacher-bashing, and it misses the point.

Accountability should mean openness, so that everyone from parents to teachers to the community at large gets regular, understandable, and credible accounts of what is going on in the schools. Three categories of reports matter most: student performance, budget performance, and customer satisfaction. Budgets are the key input to schools and student performance is their key output.

In a successful school district, the superintendent knows exactly how much progress each school is making, knows from annual questionnaires how the students, parents, and employees in each school rate the principal's leadership, and knows which principals are using their money wisely. The principal in a great school will usually be able to tell you exactly which teachers are delivering good student progress in each subject, and which ones are not. She will have a plan for helping the teachers who need it and for removing the few teachers who won't improve. In a truly accountable district, there is a third element of accountability: customer satisfaction. In Edmonton, Canada, for example, and in Santa Monica, California, every parent, student, and teacher fills out a questionnaire each year and rates the teachers, the principals, and the superintendent! With these three pillars of accountability in place, it's prudent to grant local autonomy to each school.

4. Everyone delegates authority to those below

My image of private school headmasters has always been one of benevolent despots. Not any more. As Arthur Powell says in his book on independent schools, "the days of despotic but benevolent heads are largely over. Since the 1960s considerable power has been dispersed...downwards to middle-management administrators and faculty." Perhaps the independent schools have been forced into this change because they too have a more diverse and complex body of students and must give teachers more freedom to make adjustments. In any case, these schools are remarkable for the extensive autonomy that they give to their teachers.

Great public school districts do much the same. They take great care selecting and training each teacher and each principal because they delegate so much power to those people.

5. There is a burning focus on student achievement

If you focus only on decentralization, you'll get a decentralized district, but with low student achievement. You've got to focus on student achievement.

d-- Angus McBeath, Superintendent, Edmonton Public Schools

I didn't say that this would be easy, only that it would be good -- and worth any amount of effort that it takes. Commitment to student achievement is like school-based management -- everyone is for it, but almost no one really does it.

Having a burning, monomaniacal commitment to student achievement takes more than oratory. It takes hard, hard work. It also requires an underlying belief that every student can learn and that, if the school does its job correctly, every student will learn. Think about it for a moment, and you'll realize why I conclude that so few schools really have this commitment. If every child does not learn, does not make a full year's progress in the core academic subjects every year, if you believe that every child can learn, then the school, not the child, is at fault.

A focus on student achievement should produce a different set of activities in each school, depending on the local circumstances. For example, let's consider the Jose Clemente Orozco Community Academy, 718 students in grades 6-8. Located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, Orozco Academy when we visited it was 97 percent Mexican, 1.9 percent Puerto Rican, with one white student, one black student, one Cuban student, and three other Hispanic students. More than 98 percent of the students qualify for the free lunch program. In seven years, Principal Rebeca De Los Reyes has built a team of teachers and parent volunteers who have changed the school by focusing on student achievement. They've implemented a once-monthly Saturday program with workshops for parents and academics for their children so that parents will have the focus too. They've changed the daily schedule to block scheduling, with periods of varying length, which enable teams of teachers to plan together every day and permit a more effective focus on language arts. They've mandated school uniforms, with 100 percent compliance with this step to instill discipline in the classrooms. They've instituted additional support programs for students who are learning English as a second language. The school had three Family Reading Nights last year, and was able to free eighteen half-days for teacher training, a necessity nowadays when major advances in teaching methods are taking place.

The result? From 1992 to 2000, the average standardized reading test score has risen from the 22.7th percentile to the 44.4th. The average mathematics score has risen over that period from the 30.7th percentile to the 57.5th. Principal De Los Reyes received the Outstanding Leadership Award for 2000, and she deserved it.

6. Every school is a community of learners

Every good school is, first and foremost, a community of learners. In a school that is a community, there is a consistent set of shared beliefs about what the school should be in order for its children to succeed. In a school that is divided into conflicting cliques, children suffer because they are presented with inconsistent expectations and incompatible demands.

In a unified school community, scarce resources still must be allocated among competing demands, but these decisions do not lead to outbreaks of fighting among the adults over the basic values of the school -- because those issues have been openly confronted and resolved. What does it take to transform an ordinary school into a true learning community? It's not magic -- it's plain, old-fashioned hard work.

First: the school must reach out to the outside community that it serves and put in the time and the work that it takes to understand what the community wants and needs for its children -- and then come up with a plan that meets those needs. This doesn't mean compromising or having winners and losers. It means continuing to debate the issues until the school locates that space where the many competing demands intersect.

Second: each teacher is part of a vertical team that unites, say, grades K-3 or the teachers of science in grades 7-9. Teachers are in horizontal teams, too, so that the teachers of different subjects in the tenth grade meet together once a week or twice a month to coordinate with each other. Thus all of the adults in the school are part of a learning community. Now they're ready to bring the children into this community.

We'll also take a look at the Catholic schools of the inner cities. These schools serve the poor on painfully small budgets -- yet many of them succeed magnificently at their task. They do so by creating famously strong learning communities, and we'll see how they do it.

7. Families have real choices among a variety of unique schools

All of the successful school districts in our study, whatever their size, racial composition, and location, permit families to choose whichever public school they feel is best for their children. In a sense, they've found a way to have the proven power of competition -- but within the public school system. If a school cannot attract enough students to remain viable in these systems, it's reduced to a program rather than a school, and the principal is removed and replaced by a program director, who then reports to another, successful principal. Once the school is restored to health, a new principal is appointed and the school regains its independence. In other cases, the superintendent has a variety of means through which to give close supervision to a school that is in trouble. In some instances, a failing school is simply permitted to go out of business.

Combine this competitive system with the entrepreneurial freedom given to each principal, and you have schools that very quickly adapt themselves to the precise needs of the families whom they serve. The result is the opposite of cookie-cutter schools: it's schools that are as different from each other as a rose is from a gardenia. Let a thousand different flowers bloom, and let each family choose the one that best meets its needs.


The Seven Keys to Success are not a cafeteria of ideas on school reform from which you can choose the two or three that most appeal to you. History and experience show that such a piecemeal approach won't work. Allan Odden and Carolyn Busch, for example, demonstrate in their book Financing Schools for High Performance that reformers who have implemented only school-based management committees have failed. Instead, they urge those bent on real change to implement a broad array of elements in their blueprints for revolution.

You will ultimately have to conduct your revolution step by step, but you'll also want to put before your larger school community the comprehensive outlines of your entire plan. You can overcome the skeptics with a well-developed, systemic approach to school reform, and this book will show you how to do it.

As you travel down the road to revolution, also remember to pack your humility. For, although you have armed yourself through deep study with a good deal of knowledge about how to improve the schools, you still won't know as much as the teachers and principals know. The professionals have a deep knowledge of how best to educate children. Left alone, they will continue to be mired in the status quo. You bring an intense focus on student results and a commitment to changing whatever needs to be changed. By yourself, you might concoct utopian ideas that will never be implemented. As the educational historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban have noted, the utopian dreams of generations of school reformers litter the roadside to true revolution. But if you work together, you can make revolutionary change succeed.

Copyright © 2003 by William G. Ouchi

About The Author

Nigel Deayton/Paragon Pixels

William G. Ouchi is the Sanford & Betty Sigoloff Professor in Corporate Renewal at The Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. He previously served as Vice Dean of the school and as Chair of the Strategy and Organization Area of the school. He is the author of three books on organization and management; the first, the bestselling Theory Z: How American Management Can Meet the Japanese Challenge, has been published in 14 foreign editions.


Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 24, 2008)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439108109

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