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The Structural Perspective of Organization for School - Classical organizational theory

The Structural Perspective of Organization for School - Classical organizational theory


This regards organizations as 'rational systems', concerned with realizing set goals by means of the most effective structure and procedures. The following theories belong under this perspective: classical organizations theory, system theory, contingency theory and socio-technical theory.

Classical organizational theory

This originated with Max Weber, a German sociologist from the turn of this century; Henri Fayol, a French industrialist; and Frederick Taylor, an American engineer who developed their thoughts at about the same time. They were all primarily interested in creating new organizational and management forms, as industrialism with its new technology and mass production began to make major inroads into society.

As far as schools as organizations are concerned, Max Weber's thinking has probably had the greatest impact. He defined a number of set organizational principles which he assumed could be applied universally. He claimed that as long as these principles were followed, they would inevitably lead to higher productivity:

1. Hierarchical structure: The organization is a pyramid in which the one on top always has authority over the one under him. Orders are communicated systematically from top to bottom in the organization.

Most countries have organized their school systems on a national basis, with varying levels of decision-making down through the system, all the way down to the individual pupil. To a great extent, the 'higher-ups' have power over those who are lower in the system. Power largely rests on legitimate authority. Rolf Haugen (1977) has pointed out how complicated the Norwegian school bureaucracy is, how powerless teachers and pupils feel with respect to the system, and how information - when truly vital - flows outside official channels. Above all, he
regards the bureaucracy as an impediment to learning. In previous works, I have shown that, to an increasing extent, the schools appear to be centralizing knowledge (for example, central research and development work), that 'horizontal' interaction is complicated by the hierarchical structure, and that central authorities still play a governing role in daily teaching.

2. Specialization: Since it would be too complicated for everyone in an organization to learn everything equally well, greater efficiency is achieved if tasks are distributed on the basis of each individual's competence, skills, experience, and specialties.

The traditional school, with its breakdown of subjects, classes, grade levels, and various kinds of schools, is structured on a specialization model. This development quickened pace in countries such as the United States and particularly Canada, whereas European countries (especially Great Britain and Norway) have been reluctant to back this trend - except for vocational specialization; Norwegian schools have had great difficulty breaking free from academic specialization.

3. Rule structure: Decisions and actions are governed by clear-cut rules. There are rules and procedures that safeguard the rights and duties of employees; these also assure uniformity and stability.

In countries with strong centralized authority, regulations and ordinances are an important means of governing schools. Norwegian schools have a long-standing tradition of being governed this way. In other countries, handbooks are written with precise instructions to teachers and pupils alike. Head teachers are taught to handle all sorts of questions and conflicts in terms of the rules that have been laid down. Until very recently, both teachers and pupils had to accept rules for normative behaviour that were laid down by central authorities.

4. Impersonal relationships: It is easier to keep tabs if personal relationships, emotions and irrational reactions are eliminated. Each employee is therefore under strict discipline, and their work is closely monitored. This is a principle in Weber's philosophy that has not really caught on in schools. In my opinion, this is primarily because teachers' academic code of ethics looks upon a personal relationship to one's pupils as being of overriding importance (indeed, for many teachers it is the primary motivation for their work) (Dalin and Rust 1983). This shows perhaps more than anything else the conflict that exists, as I see it, between the schools' bureaucratic structure and the schools' professionality.

5. Career possibilities: Promotions are given on the basis of seniority and/or achievement. Pay is closely connected to the hierarchical level. There are pension arrangements. On the whole, this promotes the establishment of a stable career-oriented class of workers and staff.

The schools' promotion system is built exclusively on seniority. It is also the case that the highest positions in the bureaucracy are the best-paid ones. Therefore, to a certain extent, the school system is such that success and status are related to one's place in the hierarchy. This can have unfortunate consequences: for example, a very good teacher can become a head teacher, even though there is nothing that says being a good teacher automatically guarantees that this person will make a good head teacher. In fact, the opposite is sometimes the case: good teachers sometimes become bad head teachers. It is reasonable to assume that even though career possibilities in the school system are fairly minimal compared to other sectors, the system undoubtedly creates a basis for a relatively stable professional group. For a number of years, Brooklyn Derr has been studying motivational factors in a number of professions, and has found that teachers are primarily interested in 'security' and a 'balanced' lifestyle; and some are very concerned with 'academic interests'. There are relatively few who – in Derr's words - are 'getting up', i.e. interested in a managerial career (Derr 1986).

6. Goal orientation: An organization is regarded as a rational, systematic, and goal-oriented organism. For such organizations, a rational problem-solving process is needed (Weber 1964).

The schools are formally a goal-seeking organization. The results are measured in terms of pupils' achievements. But in reality, the schools have very generalized, diffuse and overlapping goals which often conflict with each other. Teachers are often more concerned with the means than with the goal itself. Furthermore, there is greater prestige attached to 'internal knowledge' than to 'external knowledge'.

Assessing the use of classical theory in today's schools is no simple matter. In many ways, classical theory belongs to a bygone era. That being the case, what kinds of pedagogical goals can best be realized by organizing the schools according to 'classical principles'? We have seen that effectiveness (often in a narrow sense) and control over management from above are the guiding principles of classical theory. There is also reason to believe that uniformity and standardized solutions can be realized by the application of principles such as the foregoing.

For a number of years now, European schools have been moving away from centralization, hierarchical control, standardization and a fragmentation of the learning process - which is why classical theory almost seems like an anachronism. Nevertheless, I feel that several fundamental characteristics of the schools are still contributing to bureaucratic solutions.

The Structural Perspective of Organization for School - Classical organizational theory
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