What are the organizational characteristics that seem to make schools effective?

Three general characteristics most distinguish effective school organizations from ineffective ones. The first is school goals. The objectives of effective schools are clearer and more consistently perceived that the goals of ineffective schools. The objectives of the more successful schools are also more academically ambitious. More than twice as many effective schools as ineffective ones make "academic excellence" their top priority. In contrast, the unsuccessful schools place more priority than do the successful ones on such objectives as basic literacy skills, good work habits, citizenship, and specific occupational skills. Overall, effective organizations seem more likely to possess a sense of "mission," something that many other observers of effective schools have also noted.

The second distinctive characteristic of effective organizations is leadership. The better schools have principals who are stronger educational leaders. Specifically, effective organizations are led by principals who, according to their teachers, have a clear vision of where they want to take the school and the firm knowledge to get the school there. This is consistent with the sense of mission that characterizes school goals. But there is more to effective leadership. There is a strength in the better principals that comes through in their reasons for wanting to head a school. Principals in effective schools are much more likely than their counterparts in effective schools to report that they took the job of principal to gain control over the educational performance of the school – over personnel, curriculum, and other school policies – and much less likely to admit that they simply preferred administration to teaching. In much the same vein, the successful school principals had more teaching experience and less ambition to leave the school for a higher administrative post. Overall, the principals in the successful schools seemed to be more oriented by teaching and less by administration. The successful principals seemed more like leaders, the less successful ones more like managers.

Finally, effective organizations were more professional in all of the best senses of that much abused term. Principals in the effective schools held their teachers III higher esteem and treated them more as equals. Teachers were more involved in decisions about various school policies and they were given more freedom within their classrooms. Teachers also treated each other more like colleagues. They cooperated with one another and coordinated their teaching more regularly, and held each other in relatively high regard. The teachers in effective schools behaved in another important way like professionals too: they came to school regularly and presented less of an absenteeism problem for principals. Finally, the teachers in effective schools exhibited stronger feelings of efficacy, beliefs that they could really make a difference in the lives of their students. And it is no wonder. In a school where everyone is pulling together, working as a team – the concept we think best captures the effective school – and in which teachers are trusted and respected to do their best, it stands to reason that teachers would tend to believe that they can actually succeed.