Who Gets To Decide? CMO vs. School

Who decides stuff? Jim Stone, a supporter of ours who is CEO of an insurance company, passed along some advice he'd once received. Jim writes:

A brilliant figure in our industry once told me that there was no logically right balancing point between centralization and regional autonomy in a company.

He suggested that a company should simply go in one direction or the other until that approach becomes the accepted norm, and then reverse course to gain the benefits of change, new thinking, and the purging of tired assumptions.

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I thought of Jim's advice as I pondered this question. Who gets to decide?

From a teacher's point of view: Do I decide as an individual, does my department or grade level team decide, or does our whole school have an approach?

From a charter school principal's point of view? There's the considerations listed above, plus those of parents, the Department of Ed, and a board of trustees.

And here's the wrinkle. While most charter schools remain a "Mom and Pop" operation -- a single school -- some are part of charter networks. Here in Boston, a few stellar charters will operate 3, 4, even 5 schools. Even Match now operates in 3 different buildings. Nationally, KIPP has 125 schools, Uncommon 32, and Achievement First 22.*

So from a principal's point of view: What stuff do I decide (with my teachers, parents), what does my regional superintendent decide, and what does the organization's "chief academic officer" decide?

Jim Stone:

Without needing to reach a universal judgment on this provocative theory, our senior management has determined that this is a time for greater congruence in some of Plymouth Rock's business activities.

...There is little benefit to our current level of diversity in billing plans, policy documents, and invoices across our various states. Another case for greater congruence can be found in claims and customer service, where quality standards, workflows, and measurement techniques can all be improved in a better aligned regime.

We are not, however, taking the path of maximum change or purging all of our old assumptions. If there are benefits to radical reinvention as a centralized organization, we will forgo them.

We simply do not wish to surrender the proven advantages of the neighborhood focus and strong local leadership around which this company was built. We are not changing the basic recipe for the stew of autonomous regionalism and scalable centrality that has fed us well up to now. That stew, however, needs at least a pinch more of alignment.

Got that?

Don't pick an absolute winner in the never-ending race between autonomy and centrality. Judge where you are right now, and decide which way to lean for a while. So in Jim's company, at this particular moment in time, it's a move in the direction of centrality. Which way is your school trending?

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More reading if you want it:

A 2012 scholarly paper by Mathematica that examines CMOs is here.

The paper includes this chart, which gives you a sense of CMO scale.

*I realize that the CMO examples I list are ones I know best -- they're customers of Match Teacher Residency. All three are high-performing. However, I don't want you, dear reader, to get the wrong idea. The Mathematica study above shows some CMOs are not very good. Their kids have low academic gains.

You'd think only a top charter would be able to become a CMO, but evidently that's not always true.

Also, this note from the report:

Although the larger CMOs often have positive impacts, this does not mean that CMOs increase their performance as they grow. Within individual CMOs, some show declining impacts as they add schools, while others do not. In math, there is no clear pattern of changes in impacts as CMOs grow, but in reading, the impacts of most CMOs declined as they grew.