Decision-Making Structures Research Paper Starter

Decision-Making Structures

(Research Starters)

This article discusses decision-making structures and processes in the U.S. Public School systems. Decision-making structures model a variety of approaches in the educational system. Many schools use a model of site-based decision-making or school-based management. These structures often involve numerous stakeholders in differing levels of authority. The process varies in each system and often between each campus. Identified and explained are different structures and processes for the campus decision-making model.

Keywords Community; Continuous learner; Decentralization; Decision-making; Participation in decision-making; School - based management; Stakeholders

School Administration


It is imperative that a school has an effective decision-making structure and process to be able to provide a quality educational experience for the community's students. Decision-making methods are developed and determined through the collaboration of the school's administration, board, community leaders, and parental involvement. Thus the approach varies, contingent on the needs and preferences of the school personnel and community.

Leadership strategies differ primarily in the role of the leader in relation to employees/teachers, parents, students, and the community. The leader can function as an authoritarian, develop teamwork, or engage all levels of personnel in the process. There are various names for these leadership strategies such as hierarchical, transformational, facilitative, instructional, visionary, contributory, site-based management, or shared decision-making.

Essentially the decision-making structures range from top-down to ground-based approaches. These two basic models function from opposite ends of a decision-making spectrum. One is a passive model where faculty and staff wait to be told the policy change, where improvement is needed, or how and what to do about it. The other is collaborative with the staff and faculty, allowing them to be more active in evaluating their own situation, clarifying the circumstances, and suggesting initiatives (Morehead, 2003).

Five Structures in Decision-Making

The decision-making process is often organized by the administrator around five different structures, all with different levels of centralized authority.

The fifth structure is a top-down, centralized approach which can be referred to as the Hierarchical decision-making structure. This structure involves a unilateral decision which has the administrator making the decision without consulting or involving faculty in the decision (Hoy & Tarter, 1993). This leadership strategy usually consists of a senior management team, often including the superintendent, and/or assistant superintendent(s), and several principals. This can result in school policy being made by the head of school and a few senior members of staff thus contradicting the hypothesis that everyone can contribute. This structure has the head and a small fixed team identifying and discussing an area for change. The senior management team either presents their deliberations at a full staff meeting for further discussion or directly instructs staff to implement their action plan.

The fourth structure is recognized as an Individual Advisory. Here the administrator consults individually with pertinent faculty having expertise to assist in the decision. The administrator then makes a decision which may or may not reflect their opinions (Hoy & Tarter, 1993).

The third possible structure is the Group Advisory in which the administrator solicits opinions of the entire group, discusses the implications of group suggestions, and then makes a decision which may or may not reflect the group's desires (Hoy & Tarter, 1993).

The second structure is the Group Decision involving participants in the decision-making and a group decision using parliamentary procedures. All members share equally as they evaluate; attempting consensus although a decision is usually made by the majority (Hoy & Tarter, 1993).

The first structure is a Group Consensus involving participants in the decision-making process. In this process, all group members share equally as they generate and evaluate a decision with a complete consensus required before a decision can be made (Hoy & Tarter, 1993).


The successful application of these decision-making structures is conditional on the decision situation (Hoy & Tarter, 1993). Structures one and two reflect the ground-based approach (which can be referred to as the contributory model) or a decentralized form of organization. It is task-orientated and has the head and those closest to the situation explore the problem together. In this scenario no one has imperatives about their sphere of work drawn up without input. A feeling of ownership of the decisions made and consequently, a vested interest in putting those decisions into practice generates a contributory atmosphere. It also means that everyone may be involved at some stage as each committee may have a different membership and includes those most affected.

School-Based Management

Many names are used to identify the ground-based, decentralized model of School-based Management (SBM) including: “site-based management, school-site autonomy, school-site management, school-centered management, decentralized management, school-based budgeting, site-based decision-making, participation in decision-making (PDM), responsible autonomy, school-lump sum budgeting, shared governance, the autonomous school concept, school-based curriculum development, and administrative decentralization” (Clune & Whilte, 1988 as cited in Rodriguez & Slate, 2005b, p. 4). The ground-based/decentralized model or school-based management (SBM) has many different forms but the basic concept is that each school campus sets its own policies, controls its own budget, and choices are made by groups or committees of school and community representatives. These decisions or policies are not to conflict with district or board policies thus the extent of the power of SBM varies between districts and campuses (Cuban, 2007).

Public attention has spotlighted academic results, higher standards for students and teachers, and SBM which includes teacher participation, parent participation, and community participation in school decision making. Under these initiatives, all stakeholders including teachers, staff, parents, and community members have opportunities to become empowered through SBM committees (Bauch & Goldring, 1998).

SBM attempts "to raise the level of involvement of stakeholders in the governance and management of schools" (Robertson, Wohlstetter, & Mohrman, 1995). The involvement of diverse stakeholders is thought to provide a number of benefits to the school by allowing "the school to craft its own decisions, making the best possible use of the resources available to the local unit. SBM also provides a greater range of individual participation in the decision-making process, facilitating a richer base for decision-making and one that should provide empowerment for implementation" (Brown & Cooper, 2000, p. 78). Empowering those with the most investment at the local campus should provide the ability to affect how the school is performing. SBM should additionally enhance school performance and, thus student achievement.

Process of SBM

The SBM process requires: “a clear purpose and a long-term commitment by the superintendent and the school board. SBM effectiveness requires control over a large portion of the school budget and the district office's investing in training so those involved understand their roles and options. Without these pieces, SBM can become an empty and time-consuming process of writing strategic plans. Through SBM comes joint ownership for school outcomes to stakeholders, but such ownership necessitates technical know-how and determination not present in some school communities. The right balance between district direction and school flexibility takes time and patience” (Cuban, 2007, The Right Balance). Emphasis...

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