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Autonomy and accountability in schools serving disadvantaged communities

Esther Dominique Klein (Department of Educational Sciences, University of Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 7 August 2017




Increased school autonomy and accountability have been a common denominator of national reforms in otherwise heterogeneous governance systems in Europe and the USA. The paper argues that because schools serving disadvantaged communities (SSDCs) often have lower average performance, they are more often sanctioned or under closer scrutiny, but might also receive more additional resources. The purpose of this paper is to therefore analyze whether SSDCs have more or less autonomy than schools with a more advantageous context in four countries with heterogeneous autonomy and accountability policies.


The paper is based on the data from the Programme for International Student Assessment 2012 school and student questionnaires from Finland, Germany, the UK, and the USA. The choice of countries is based on different governance models described by Glatter et al. (2003). The data are used to identify SSDCs and analyze the reported autonomy in resource allocation and curriculum and assessment. Using regression analyses, patterns are analyzed for each country individually. They are then juxtaposed and compared. Differences are related back to the governance models of the respective countries.


The results indicate an association between the communities the schools are serving and the autonomy either in the allocation of resources, or the curriculum and assessment. SSDCs appeared to have a little more autonomy than schools with a more advantageous context in Finland, Germany, and the UK, but less autonomy in the USA. The comparison suggests that in the USA, autonomy is rather a reward for schools that have the least amount of need, whereas in the other three countries it could be a result of strategies to improve schools in need. The paper discusses possible explanations in the policies and support structures for SSDCs.


The effects of increased school autonomy and accountability on student achievement have been discussed at length. How different accountability policies affect the autonomy of schools with the highest needs has so far not been studied. The study can be understood as a first step to unravel this association. Following steps should include in-depth investigations of the mechanisms underlying increased or diminished autonomy for SSDCs, and the consequences for school improvement in these schools.



Klein, E.D. (2017), "Autonomy and accountability in schools serving disadvantaged communities", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 55 No. 5, pp. 589-604.



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