Why does your research have anything new to say about
the mysteries of student achievement and school performance?
are two distinguishing qualities of our research, the first having to do with
the kinds of causes of school performance we are looking at, the second having
to do with the data we are using to study those causes. Research into the
determinants of school performance and student achievement has been dominated by
what are often called input-output studies.
 Based on the economic concept of
the production function, these studies have tried to explain educational
"outputs," such as student test scores, with conventional economic "inputs,"
such as expenditures per student, teacher salaries, class sizes, and the caliber
of school facilities. The fundamental idea behind these studies is that schools,
like any economic enterprise, ought to produce their products – educated
students – with varying degrees of effectiveness and efficiency as the
combination of capital and labor used in production varies. Years of study now
suggest, however, that schools may not be like just any economic enterprise.
Since the famous "Coleman Report" of 1965, input-output studies have been unable
to establish any systematic relationship between school performance and a wide
range of indicators of school resources.
research that we have been doing takes a different approach than input-output
studies. It focuses more on the production process itself. It considers how
schools are organized and operated – in other words, how inputs are actually
converted into outputs. The production process may well be more important in
public education that the economic theory of production functions would suggest.
Schools are not part of a market where competitive forces can be assumed to
encourage managers to organize their firms to use capital and labor efficiently.
Schools are part of a political and administrative system where the forces that
managers – principals and superintendents – are exposed to cannot be expected to
encourage efficient organization. It therefore becomes especially important in
analyzing the performance of a public enterprise such as a school to study its
organization. It is also important to examine those non-economic forces that
lead schools to
organize as they do. While our research also considers the conventional economic
determinants of school performance, our emphasis is on the production process –
how it works and what causes it to work in different ways. Because of this
emphasis, our research may well have something new to say.
research is also distinguished by the data it employs. We are far from the first
researchers to suggest that school organization is important, that it can help
explain the weak link between school resources and school performance. Indeed,
over the last ten years many researchers have completed studies that show that
successful schools have distinctive organizations. Better schools appear to be
characterized by such things as clear and ambitious goals, strong and
instructionally oriented leadership by principals, an orderly environment,
teacher participation in school decisionmaking, and collegial relationships
between and among school leaders and staff. The studies that have identified
these characteristics – studies known collectively as "Effective Schools
Research" – have not settled the issue of school performance, however.
are serious doubts about the magnitude of the impact that school organization
has on school performance and, indeed, about whether organization is a cause of
performance at all: healthy school organizations may be a consequence of
successful students, and not vice versa. It almost goes without saying that
Effective Schools Research has provided few clues about the causes of school
organization; the focus of that research has been on organizational
primary reason for the doubts about Effective Schools Research is the methods
that have been used in most of the studies. Research has been dominated by
qualitative case studies of small numbers of schools, usually reputed to be
unusually successful. Those few studies that have used somewhat larger numbers
of schools and employed quantitative analysis have still not examined
representative samples. From one study to the next there has been considerable
variation in the particular organizational characteristics said to be important.
And the conclusion that organization is important, however frequently it has
been drawn, is still based substantially on impressionistic evidence,
uncontrolled observation, and limited numbers of cases. In sharp contrast,
input-output research, however negative its conclusions, is based on rigorous
statistical analyses of hard data in hundreds and thousands of schools
nationwide. There is consequently more reason at this point to believe that the
relationship between school resources and school performance is unsystematic
than to believe that school organization provides a strong link between the two.
our research we explore how strong that link may be by employing the methods
that have been used in input-output analyses. Unlike most Effective Schools
Research, we investigate the resources, organization, and performance of a large
random, national sample of schools in which all characteristics are measured
with quantitative indicators, all relationships are estimated with statistical
controls, and all inferences are careful to try to distinguish causes from
data base is the result of merging two national surveys of American high schools – High School and
Beyond (HSB), a 1980 and 1982 panel study of students and schools, and the
Administrator and Teacher Survey (ATS), a 1984 survey (which we helped design)
of the teachers and principals in half of the HSB schools. The merged data set
includes over 400 public and private high schools – the privates providing a
valuable look at school organization in a market setting – and approximately
9,000 students, 11,000 teachers, and the principals in every school in the
sample. While no piece of research is ever definitive, and this is certainly
true of research as new as ours, our work is a step in the right direction
methodologically, and therefore a contribution that may well make a difference.