Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
Should Communities Be Managing, Governing or Supporting Schools? A Review Essay on the System Conditions under Which Different Forms of Community Voice Can Improve Student Learning
There are many different potential roles that parents and communities can play within education systems. This essay reviews the different ways that parents and communities can exercise their individual and collective voice within local schools. It develops a typology to distinguish between three different forms of voice, and explores the enabling conditions in the wider system that each form of voice requires to improve student learning outcomes.
The dominant form of voice in many current education systems is “school management”, which is commonly exercised through school management committees. The essay diagnoses how other parts of the system – the state, the bureaucracy, and teachers - have constrained school committees into playing a limited “school management” role. Because they are generally granted circumscribed responsibilities related to the day-to-day running of the school, school management committees have failed to make consistent, significant improvements to either school accountability or student learning.
“School governance” is an alternative, stronger form of voice. “School governance” entails giving parents and community members greater latitude to determine the kind of education offered in local schools, somewhat analogous to how a board sets a vision and is owed justifications against results for major decisions made by an organization’s management. This would necessitate giving school governing bodies greater responsibility over setting the curriculum and choosing school leadership. Furthermore, since parents do not always or necessarily prioritize student learning from among other competing educational goals, focusing “school governance” on learning would also require strengthening the central state’s capacity to fulfill key responsibilities such as setting and measuring progress against learning standards. “School governance” would therefore face steep political and implementation challenges, and would have to be accompanied by parallel, government-led reform to other parts of the education system.
The system conditions for parents and communities to play an effective “school governance” role are exacting. “School support” is a more modest but potentially more workable form of voice in many current systems. Where “school management” and “school governance” ask parents and communities to hold local schools accountable, the “school support” paradigm emphasizes actions that individual parents and community members can take in collaboration with teachers to directly support children’s learning. However, there are many cases where more parent and community involvement is not necessarily better. Parents and community members need specific, structured opportunities that complement good teaching in the classroom for “school support” to translate into improved learning outcomes.
Silberstein, J. 2023. Should Communities Be Managing, Governing or Supporting Schools? A Review Essay on the System Conditions under Which Different Forms of Community Voice Can Improve Student Learning. RISE Working Paper Series. 23/141. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-WP_2023/141