Bill Ouchi is a management professor who studies school districts. His latest book provides an in-depth look at six school districts with high-profile leaders (including Rod Paige, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, and Arlene Ackerman) who are all pursuing decentralization of decisionmaking and funding, a school reform strategy lauded by Ouchi in a previous book.
These six stories are compelling and informative, writes Rick Hanushek in a new review of the book, but the book’s thesis—that the key element of a school’s organization is the number of student that a teacher regularly sees (Total Student Load or TSL), and that if this number is small, achievement will be high—begs for serious empirical analysis. While the argument is compelling in an intuitive sense, Hanushek writes, it is unclear whether TSL is expected to have an impact while all other things (such as budget, teacher expertise, and curriculum) are held constant, or whether trading some of these attributes for a smaller TSL would enhance achievement.
Current discussions of the importance of teacher quality for achievement generally ignore such environmental features as district management and decisionmaking. Could it be that some of the observed variation in teacher quality really reflects unmeasured differences in the organizational features that Ouchi highlights in his case studies? These are testable propositions, and ones that could provide important insights into where the revolution in student achievement is most likely to occur.
For more see “Total Student Load: Maybe worth a longer look, but hardly a revolution,” by Eric Hanushek. A review of The Secret of TSL: The revolutionary discovery that raises school performance, by William G. Ouchi. Simon and Schuster, 2009, $26; 336 pages.