Are Charter Schools Better Managed than District Schools and Private Schools?

managment

I just read an interesting new study on school management across governance types: charter, district, and private. HT to Lauren B and Will A for pointing me to the study.

Key Findings

Overall, we show that higher management quality is strongly associated with better educational outcomes.

We show that 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 better governance (accountability) and leadership of the principal/head.

The UK has the highest management score (2.9), closely followed by Sweden, Canada and the US (all on 2.8). Germany is slightly lower (2.5) and Italy is substantially lower (2.1). The emerging economies of Brazil (2.0) and India (1.7) have the lowest scores.

Differences in management across countries are larger in education than in other sectors. Country fixed effects account for 46% of the variance in the school management scores compared to 13% in manufacturing and 40% in hospitals across the same subset of countries and questions.

What They Measured

We measure four broad areas of management. (1) Operations – meaningful processes that allow pupils to learn over time; teaching methods that ensure all pupils can master the learning objectives; and whether the school uses assessment to verify learning outcomes at critical stages, makes data easily available and adapts pupil strategies accordingly. (2) Monitoring – whether processes towards continuous improvement exist and lessons are captured and documented; whether school performance is regularly tracked with useful metrics, reviewed with appropriate frequency, quality, and follow-up, and communicated to staff. (3) Target setting– whether the school, department, and individual targets cover a sufficiently broad set of metrics; whether these targets are aligned with each other and the overall goals. (4) People/talent management– whether there is a systematic approach to identifying good and bad performance, rewarding teachers proportionately, dealing with underperformers, and promoting and retaining good performers.

Reflections

1. Charter > Traditional > Private: It is very interesting to see that charter schools outscored private schools in management practices. Moreover, traditional district schools outscored private schools in the US, Sweden, UK, and Canada. This, to me, adds credence to signaling explanation of education. People who pay for private schools are not paying for well managed schools. They are paying for status and peer effects.

2. Connection between accountability and management: On this blog, I have expressed mixed feelings on government enforced accountability. On one hand, I care about performance; on the other hand, I’m open to the idea that parent choice alone will be, over the long-term, a better form of accountability. This research indicates that parent choice is not enough to deliver good management, and that performance accountability to a government body is what ultimately leads to better management. Of course, this seems to drive home the issue that what parents want and what “the government” wants may be somewhat at odds. I find myself in the interesting position in substantively agreeing with the government while being ideologically sympathetic to parents.

3. Connection between leadership and governance: The paper notes that better leadership leads to better management (not shocking), but it doesn’t explore why better leaders end up in charter schools. I have my theories, but would have liked to see this explored.

4. Country management scores vary in health and education more than manufacturing: One could imagine a couple of explanations: (1) manufacturing organizations are simpler to operate, so it’s easier to manage them well (2) education and health much more heavily regulated industries, so there is less of a market to drive adoption of best practices in management (3) in education, the consumer doesn’t care about operational performance, so organizations don’t prioritize it. I think all three factors probably play some role.

5. High Flyers: I would have been interested to see data on the countries that generally top performance rankings, such as South Korea and Singapore.

One thought on “Are Charter Schools Better Managed than District Schools and Private Schools?

  1. John C

    I think your observations are on target. A couple of further thoughts:
    – I don’t think it should be surprising that charter schools have better leaders, simply by design. Many people go into charters to build a better model – they think about how to create and lead a better institution – while the leaders of private and government schools often get there for reasons other than leadership skills.
    – On accountability vs management, I don’t think the public will necessarily be good at making choices for their kids. Its not that they don’t want to but usually don’t have good tools to do it. I think the demand for good charters in poor performing urban districts is a choice between very stark contrasts (and still not everyone makes this choice). Its not clear in the research that parents were making decisions based on the same clear benchmarks that were reported to regulators, so that may explain the bias in outcomes.
    – I think the variance is higher in education but virtually all of your assets are human capital, and hence highly variable in input and management quality. Machines, medical devices and computer systems tend to be more consistent across users.

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