The Secret of TSL: The Revolutionary Discovery that Raises School Performance

William G. Ouchi
Simon & Schuster
2009

U.C.L.A. business professor Bill Ouchi has authored another
valuable contribution to the education-reform literature. (We reviewed
his last big book, here.)
“TSL” stands for “total student load” and refers to the number of
students that a teacher is responsible for and also to the number of
students in a school. He contends, plausibly enough, that small schools
are easier to lead and manage than big ones and that they’re more likely
to be managed successfully by principals who are competent but not
necessarily superstar executives. He also contends, again plausibly,
that a teacher responsible over the course of a day or week for 80 or so
students is far more effective with them than one who must contend with
twice that number.. But this useful book isn’t ultimately about class
or school size. Befitting a scholar of management, it’s really
about effective school and district organization. He sets out five
“pillars of school empowerment” and “four freedoms” that actually give
principals the capacity to lead their schools. Along the way, he does an
admirable job of explaining how districts should be decentralized and
why they work better when they are. Taken seriously, Ouchi’s analysis
would do important good for American K-12 education, particularly in big
cities and large districts. It’s not the whole story, however.
Important as it is, for example, for schools to control their
curriculum, that doesn’t get us very far if it’s a loopy, flabby, trendy
or ineffectual curriculum, or one taught by instructors who don’t know
their stuff. Nor must one buy Ouchi’s assumption that districts are
forever. Is it not possible that the geographically-based district
itself is an obsolete management structure and that U.S. education would
be better off with a direct relationship between states and a host of
fully empowered charter-like schools, CMOs, EMOs, and other operators,
some of them virtual, some of them national? Still, as long as we have
the structure we have, wise policymakers and state and district leaders
would do well to heed Bill Ouchi’s findings and sage advice. You can
find the book here.

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