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A New Epistemological Context for Education: Knowledge Management in Public Schools.

Knowledge management is an increasingly common application in the corporate sector for leveraging intellectual capital and fostering organizational learning. The author advocates this approach for public schools to improve student achievement.

State governments should design statewide legislation and develop public policy to build upon its most valuable resource, the propagating intellectual capital of the republic. That is, the student consumers and clients who enroll in each state's public school system, and who will contribute to the enhancement of the future workforce and the ongoing development of regional economic conditions. Over the past twenty years, Florida for example, has spent more than $150 billion on public education. This historical investment is compounded by a state in which nearly 30% of its population is considered to be illiterate and continues to rank in the lower percentile of rankings among the other 49 states. These statistics portray a startling economic and environmental condition for the state's future. And what is needed is an educational infrastructure and leadership delivery that builds on the basic principles and processes of "knowledge management." Policymakers and stakeholders must focus all of its efforts on advancing student learning and managing more effectively the knowledge that could be learned by the best practices for improved learning and higher achievement. The purpose of this paper is to propose the design and development of action research and a knowledge management infrastructure for public education. Linkage Research, Inc. defines knowledge management as follows in the private sector:

* Creating, finding and collecting knowledge and best practices;

* Sharing and understanding those practices so they can be used;

* Adapting and applying those practices to situations.

Most state's current ranking systems of schools, on one hand, publicizes controversial and unsettling information about many of its schools. On the other hand, the knowledge learned from the best practices used in the best classrooms can provide formative data to help manage schools--particularly instruction--more efficiently and effectively. Modern school leaders should make data-driven decision making a top priority in instructional leadership. Educators, policymakers and other stakeholders should do this by:

* First, defining knowledge management as the collection of knowledge on best practices or lessons learned; the sharing of those practices and lessons to those who can use them; and the application of the practices or lessons for subsequent innovation and/or intervention in the classroom;

* Second, designing a technological infrastructure that collects and disseminates data results from (a) the best practices from schools ranked in the higher percentile (state and national) with successful testing outcomes in English, mathematics, reading, and science and (b) the lessons learned from the worst practices in teaching--particularly in urban settings where there are the lowest testing scores;

* Third, downloading (online and onsite) these information references and resources to educators, in taxonomical formats, for subsequent intervention by teachers with principals, in the classroom with accompanying suggestions for implementing pedagogical teaching techniques to supplement the foundations of instructional leadership;

* Fourth, developing incentive-based in-service training activities, educational programs, and professional development concerning the use of knowledge management to support learning-centered, instructional leadership; and

* Fifth, delivering a new and different educational initiative based on principles of knowledge management that encompasses centralized information resources for the decentralized distribution of the best practices and lessons learned for advancing academic achievement between students and their teachers--the unit of analysis and lows of control.

There are effective schools in Florida, and throughout the U.S., but there appears to be no effective and expediant repository of information on lessons learned and best practices in these schools as well as others in higher ranking states. Results from these databases could be measured against other nationwide benchmarks and indicators. Benchmarking is a practical way to stimulate change for continuous improvement with intervention. This can help the state with identifying an immediate and long term strategic direction for public education. Once the infrastructure has been created, a leadership model should be developed that focuses on improving the relationship between the two parties involved in epistemological or "knowledge transfer"--the teacher and the student. This classroom relationship is the most paramount synergy between adults and children at the school site. The teacher, as the sender of tacit knowledge, and the student as the receiver of explicit knowledge must have a clear, cohesive and coherent relationship. It is the principal's primary responsibility of providing the resources and support to sustain that relationship and, perhaps, the yielding of higher learning as well as test scores will be forthcoming. Exercising the principles of knowledge management, modern principals can take more of an active role in leading the school's knowledge infrastructure by: (a) managing the data derived from the interdependent relationship between the teacher and the student more efficiently; (b) encouraging teachers to provide more critical input into process of knowledge enhancement; (c) implementing more knowledge-related training for the school as a learning organization; (d) making decisions based on the analysis of data from improved learning and higher test score results, lessons learned and best practices; and (e) most importantly, leading the development of a strategic plan with knowledge management at its center of leadership and core of organizational values.

Other responsibilities and roles of the modern principal in his/her effort as a knowledge manager should include:

* Developing a measurable vision, mission and strategic direction for moving the school from its present conventional structure to becoming a knowledge-based learning organization;

* Developing policies, procedures and processes that provide collective resources that are critical and essential to the learning infrastructure;

* Designing knowledge transfer "prescriptions" and developing a curriculum to improve learning across all disciplines and subject matters; and

* Creating an evaluation process that allows for constant and consistent benchmarking of measures for improving bottom-line results.

Garvin (1998) in Harvard's Business Review on Knowledge Management defines the learning organization as "an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights." Ruggels (1998) in Berkeley's California Management Review categorizes knowledge-focused activities as the following for applying and managing knowledge as" those activities generating new knowledge; accessing valuable knowledge from outside sources; using accessible knowledge in decision making; imbedding knowledge and processes; representing knowledge in databases; facilitating knowledge growth through culture; transferring existing knowledge into other parts of the organization; and measuring the value of knowledge assets and/or impact of knowledge management." These categories provide a well-defined basis for the modern principal as a knowledge manager. Information from best practices could generate new knowledge for decision-making. A state knowledge management repository, with quantitative and qualitative data, could provide axiological data and access valuable information from successful lessons learned in schools that work well with increasing student achievement and progressing in student learning. These data sources should be used in day-to-day decision-making and problem-solving to support instructional leadership at the school site. Facilitating knowledge growth between our teachers and students, through the maintenance of a culture that values learning in the decision-making process, is most important for embracing this new model of management delivery.

A state-based, knowledge management repository of lessons learned from best practices, could disseminate these information sources to school sites, with recommended management devices to all school districts that are experiencing continued decline in student achievement and low testing outcomes. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Annenberg Foundation recently announced a $70 million plan to broadcast teacher-training workshops nationwide. The broadcasts will occur seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Perhaps a state repository could be technologically linked to this information system--focusing on best practices and lessons learned for televised and Internet transmission. States should also pass legislation and develop public policy that eliminates the barriers to school processes that foster knowledge transfer and the locus of control for advanced learning between the teacher, as the fiduciary, and the student, as the client. This could mean allowing school districts the autonomy and independence to train principals in knowledge management or other areas that fall either below or go beyond the state's current training for certification as a principal or superintendent. An aspect of knowledge management that must be recognized, is the organizational support for of innovation, change and entrepreneurial leadership.

The designation and deployment of resources to support training in knowledge management and leadership must also be a part of the infrastructure. The timely availability of Internet technology provides an expedient and effective way to reach educators and provide options to them for implementing data-driven decision-making with the use of statistical analysis and decision sciences commonly used in other sectors. Knowledge management advocate, Peter Drucker, has found that there are minimal differences between managing corporations and managing government for the public sector. He suggests that the differences are mainly in application rather in principles. Florida, and other states, could benefit from applying knowledge management in schools. Another widely recognized enthusiast of knowledge management and the learning-centered organization, Peter Senge, perhaps sums it up best by recently warning that "the challenges of systemic changes where hierarchy is inadequate will push us to new views of leadership based on new principles ... the leadership challenges in building learning organizations represent a macrocosm of the leadership issue of our times." Investing in the management of knowledge and advancement of learning in public schools is a matter of utmost urgency as the U.S. positions its workforce for competitiveness in the new global marketplace. Modern school leaders must take a more active role in facilitating better learning for our most precious intellectual capital--the children and youth enrolled in our public schools. In sum, these new leaders must implement and oversee "tactic and explicit" knowledge transfer in the school; provide the necessary resources to process information and increase knowledge; manage the knowledge relationship from data-driven decisions; and lead in the development of a strategic plan with benchmark measures that can: first, elevate our test scores; second, move bottom-tier schools closer to the top in a state's academic-ranking hierarchy; and third, transform our schools into results-oriented learning organizations with "knowledge management" at the center of future leadership delivery from the state's educators. After this system has been developed, schools must be informed about the demonstrable ways to leverage the knowledge they gain from knowledge management systems.


Garvin, D. (1998). Building a Learning Organization. Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business School Press: Cambridge, pp. 47-80.

Ruggles, R. (1998). The State of the Nation: Knowledge Management in Practice. California Management Review, 40(3), 80-89.

Joseph M. Stevenson, Ph.D., Eminent Scholar, College of Education, Florida International University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Joseph M. Stevenson, College of Education, University Park, ZEB 338, Miami, Florida 33199.
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Article Details
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Author:Stevenson, Joseph Martin
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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