Impacts of Bureaucracy 1
Doctoral Qualifying Paper
Critical Issues in Education: Impacts of Bureaucracy
School districts are comprised of boards of education, superintendents, principals,
Impacts of Bureaucracy 2
directors, teachers, parents, and students. With the layers of hierarchy and procedure that
these relationships create, bureaucracy becomes an inevitable result of the structure. The
current trends of accountability, namely student performance and spending caps, are also
evidence that suggest that bureaucracy will continue to have a place in the educational
system. The connotation of the term bureaucracy is usually negative. Common usage
aligns bureaucracy with inflexibility, rigidity, and alienation. The “red tape” associated
with bureaucracy potentially affects schools in a myriad of areas, but for this purpose,
two are most relevant: teacher professionalism and educational finance. The low
performance of some schools is attributed in part to teacher constraints imposed by
bureaucratic structure. Financial spending often encounters administrative obstacles that
prohibit the money from reaching the classroom. Bureaucracy seems to be a necessary
evil. Leadership frameworks with bureaucratic structures should strive to maximize
organizational efficiency; with the proper leadership, bureaucratic structures must enable
rather than hinder.
There are three important reasons to study the bureaucratic nature of structure in
administration. First, administrative structure is a manipulative variable; it can be
organized to better serve teachers students. Second, there is more public interest in
schools as organizations; more stakeholders are demanding a part in the decision making
process. Lastly, the structure of a school is related to student achievement. If the students
are not performing, the public criticism leads to a protective posture that often presides
over goal orientation. Moreover, outside pressures produce staff feelings of insecurity,
which, in turn, lead to a rigid administrative structure impeding growth abilities (Sinden,
Hoy, & Sweetland, 2004).
Impacts of Bureaucracy 3
Bureaucratic structures are characterized “with hierarchy of authority, division of
labor, impersonality, objective standards, technical competence, and rules and
regulations” (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001, p. 296). Hoy and Sweetland (2001) also cite
Weber who defines the properties of bureaucracy as hierarchy of authority, rules and
regulations, division of labor, impersonal orientation, and career orientation. Bureaucracy
is generally characterized with inflexibility, rigidity, and alienation.
However, bureaucracies could be an efficient form of organizational structure.
“Formal, bureaucratic structures abound in school organizations. Written rules and
regulations specify work activities in the form of specific outcome measures, job
descriptions, curriculum guides, and instructional programs” (Goldring & Ogwa, 2002,
p.13). Goldring and Ogwa (2002) also discuss that formal structures “shape work-
relations as in the assignment of teachers to sequentially age-graded classes, school bell
schedules and calendars, and teacher teams” (p.13). “Modest work rules are not only
advantageous for teachers; they introduce structure into an otherwise unbounded
organization by providing clarity about roles and responsibilities, channels for
communication, and guides for orderly practices” (Johnson & Landman, 2000, p. 112). It
is incumbent for school administrators to embrace hierarchy and enliven it with feelings
Arches (1991) identified three consequences of bureaucratization. First, employee
isolation results from rule-governed, codified behavior, scheduling constraints, and
limited peer interaction. Second, fragmentation is due to the compartmentalization of job
responsibilities into narrowly defined tasks, thus reducing the employee flexibility to
problem solve. Lastly, deskilling happens because of a breakdown of job-related
Impacts of Bureaucracy 4
knowledge and skill acquisition resulting from specialization and division of labor
The adverse consequences of hierarchy are not due to structure but rather result
from the decisions of administrators in implementing authority. Christie (2000) describes
that the principal is a critical component for a school that works. The principal’s
decisions to keep the focus on instruction, constructive tones, and high expectations work
to provide leadership for teachers. The hierarchical structure should strive to facilitate
organizational effectiveness. More than ever, the need for school leaders closest to the
client to make decisions appropriate for reaching instructional goals is imperative.
The “red tape” associated with bureaucracy potentially affects schools in a myriad
of areas, but for this purpose, two are most relevant: teacher professionalism and
educational finance. The low performance of some schools is attributed in part to teacher
constraints imposed by bureaucratic structure (Goldring & Ogwa, 2002). Policy analysts
also need to improve the understanding of the links between financial inputs and student
outputs so that resources are used effectively (King, R.A., Swanson, A.D., & Sweetland,
Teacher professionalism is essential for improving the educational outcomes for
all students. Often enough, bureaucratic rules and regulations are identified as the causes
for diminished professionalism. “Less bureaucratic schools are crucial to enable teacher
to be professionals. In a more professional school environment, teachers can innovate,
diversify the curriculum, and offer varied instructional strategies” (Goldring & Ogwa,
2002, p. 3). Teachers in less constrained school environments will be able to enhance
Impacts of Bureaucracy 5
their professionalism. Teacher professional inputs will better serve the children and their
families. The changes should include greater participation from the teachers in
administrative decisions, development of a stronger knowledge base, higher standards,
more accountability, and increase collaboration (Goldring & Ogwa, 2002).
The current structure of the financial allocation system to fund education shares
similar frustrations as teacher professionalism and is also likely linked to bureaucratic
control. “Hierarchical bureaucracy is paralyzing American education; the structure is
getting in the way of children’s learning” (King, Swanson & Sweetland, 2003, p. 430).
King, et al. (2003) discuss Boyer’s feelings that the current system of centralized finance
operations is “stifling creativity in too many schools, and preventing principals and their
staffs from exercising their best professional judgment on decisions that properly should
be made at the local level” (p. 430). Providing more resources alone will not improve
achievements unless the financial allocation systems are more effective. Policy makers
and educators are challenged to rethink the most effective ways to integrate finances in
support of core teaching-learning activities. School finance reforms are linked to school
improvement efforts for equity, efficiency, and adequacy (King et al., 2003, p. 503).
Theories and Perspective
Bureaucracy works poorly because of the promotion of rigid, mindlessness, and
alienating behaviors. Other times, bureaucracy works well because it can also guide and
direct behaviors, clarify responsibilities, and reduce stress (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001). The
fundamental features of bureaucracy are formalization and centralization.
Impacts of Bureaucracy 6
Formalization is as a set of formal rules and procedures; rules and procedures
represent a hierarchy of authority. Adler and Borys (1996) identify two types of
formalization: enabling and coercive. An examination of the features of each type of
formalization illustrates the potential outcomes of bureaucracy.
“Coercive formalization is a collection of procedures, rules, and regulations that
attempt to force subordinates to comply” (Hoy & Sweetland, 2000, p. 526). Coercive
formalization alienates, constrains, and punishes rather than fostering employee
commitment and rewarding employee productive practices. Coercive procedures impede
communication; the procedures are repressive and foster mistrust and punishment for
mistakes. The procedures “demand blind obedience to the rules” (Hoy & Sweetland,
2001, p. 298). Coercive formalization causes of employee stress, resulting in absenteeism
and lack of motivation. Coercive formalization decreases job satisfaction (Arches, 1991).
Formalization is associated with feelings of employee powerlessness and self-
estrangement. “If formalization undermines the employees’ commitment and fosters
dissatisfaction, it follows that it also limits innovation” (Adler & Borys, 1996, p.63).
Lack of innovation on the teacher’s part will negatively impact classroom instruction.
On the contrary, enabling formalization assists employees with solutions to
problems in their work while enabling the rules and procedures to be flexible guidelines
that reflect best practices that assist teachers to overcome job-related obstacles. The
substitution of judgment for rigid rules encourages problem solving. “Enabling
procedures invite interactive dialogue, view problems as opportunities, foster trust, value
differences, capitalize on and learn from mistakes, and delight in the unexpected; in brief,
they facilitate problem solving” (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001, p. 298). Work can be fulfilling
Impacts of Bureaucracy 7
and satisfying if an organization is a cooperative endeavor. A recognizable overlap
between employee and organizational goals contributes to efficiency and pride (Adler &
Borys, 1996). The differences are outlined in Table 1.
Contrasting Enabling and Coercive Rules and Regulations
Enabling Rules and Regulations Coercive Rules and Regulations
Promote dialogue Frustrate two-way communication
Foster trust Foster mistrust
Value differences Demand consensus
Enable learning from mistakes Punish mistakes
Facilitate problem solving Induce mindless conformity
The relationships between the administration and the faculty and staff can be
illustrated as a tangled web, each party blaming the higher level for establishing obstacles
impeding production. For example, a teacher may feel that administrative
micromanagement diminishes their professional judgment. The teacher becomes
alienated from the students in the classroom and blames administration for creating the
obstacles that affect day to day teaching assignments. On an administrative level, school
executives fault state bureaucracies for preventing localities to adequately educate
students according to unique community needs. These barriers may include the over
abundance of required academic assessments or financial funding blocks. In each
example, Hoy and Sweetland (2001) would contend that the unresponsive structures with
rigid rules and policies foster human frustration resulting in dissatisfaction and indifferent
attitudes towards job performance.
The difference between enabling and coercive formalization is a difference in
leadership approach. Enabling strategies require a trustful collaboration focusing on
Impacts of Bureaucracy 8
solution formalization striving for the common goal of improvement. Coercive strategies
employ unyielding, one-way decision-making designed to monitor and control
subordinates. A healthier leadership approach will improve organizational relations,
resulting in a more satisfying organizational climate.
The second feature of bureaucracy is centralization. “Centralization of authority
is the locus of control for organizational decision making; it is the degree to which
employees participate in decision-making” (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001, p. 299). In high-
centralization, decision-making flows from the top down through a chain of command;
low-centralization indicates that decision-making responsibility is spread and shared
among many. High-centralization is coercive in nature and expects subordinates to
comply with unquestioned directives. Control is an underlying obsession. The general
reaction of organizational members is negative, often the basis for employee
dissatisfaction, alienation, and hostility in organizations (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001). On
the contrary, low-centralization suggests that shared decision-making results in more
satisfaction and organizational ownership through the ranks.
An administration that presents obstacles to problem-solving and job completion
is considered a hindering centralization. These hierarchies usually respond to outside
influences that hinder effective organizational operation. The control mentality causes
employee dissatisfaction, alienation, and hostility. Hoy and Sweetland (2001) describe
In such structures, the hierarchy obstructs innovation, and
the administrators use their power and authority to control
and discipline teachers. In schools where professional work
is controlled in top-down fashion, the consequence is often
Impacts of Bureaucracy 9
resistance by teachers who are coerced to play the
bureaucratic game of satisfying artificial standards rather
than serving the needs of their student clients (p. 300).
In contrast, “enabling centralization helps employees to solve problems rather
than obstructing their work. The authority structure helps superiors and subordinates
work across recognized authority boundaries while retaining their distinctive roles” (p.
Enabling hierarchy is a combination of authority as administrators use their
leadership positions “to buffer teachers and design structures that facilitate teaching and
learning” (Hoy & Sweetland, 2001, p. 300). Hoy and Sweetland (2001) envision enabling
centralization as flexible, cooperative, and collaborative. Table 2 outlines the differences.
Contrasting Enabling and Hindering Centralization
Characteristics of Enabling Hierarchy Characteristics Hindering Hierarchy
Facilitates problem solving Frustrates problem solving
Enables cooperation Promotes control
Encourages innovation Discourages change
Protects participation Discipline Subordinates
A Contrasting Perspective
Kevin B. Smith and Kenneth J. Meier (1994) identify bureaucracy as an effective
function in education, specifically when measuring student performance. Their theories
work off a previous analysis of Chubb and Moe who contend that less bureaucratic public
schools are more successful than other public schools. The findings support that “rules,
regulations, and controls restrict the autonomy of teachers and prevent from doing what
they do best teach” (Meier & Smith, 1994, p. 551).
Impacts of Bureaucracy 10
Smith and Meier identify two independent variables of particular interest. First,
teachers face two different bureaucracies: the state and the school district. Bureaucracy is
seen as a function of need and government responsibility, not as a constraint (Meier &
Smith, 1994). Second, and more revealing, is the discussion about teacher influence on
teaching. Student performance is linked to teacher autonomy in the classroom. “Students
learn best when teachers teach rather than spend their time on bureaucratic matters”
(Meier & Smith, 1994, p.554). Many teachers and teachers’ unions seek to influence
schools and it is theorized that these efforts are likely to interfere with teaching activities.
The conclusions drawn from this study support the hypothesis that when teachers assume
administrative responsibilities, student performance suffers based on the fact that teachers
are not entirely concentrating on developing and planning for student instruction. The
bureaucrats free them of administrative responsibilities and allow them to focus their
efforts on teacher professionalism (Meier & Smith, 1994).
Practical Application: A Call for Leadership
To some degree, bureaucracy seems to be a necessary part of the educational
system in so far as it will continue to prevail as an administrative structure to guide the
processes of teaching students. However, the orientation of bureaucracy is what may
either enhance or hinder an efficient delivery of instruction. By way of orientation, it is
incumbent upon the leadership approach of the school administrators to best develop an
organizational structure that encourages, rather that impedes. Leadership theory and
practice will play a major role in establishing the trust and collaboration necessary to
improve the quality of instruction that serves the client. Put simply, success is an
attestation to the institution's good judgment, its collective expertise, and its ability to
Impacts of Bureaucracy 11
develop talent and maintain organizational integrity. Conversely, when a leader fails,
morale and organizational credibility are put at risk.
Administrative structure is a manipulative variable; an organization can choose
its leaders within a framework of a desired leadership style. The style that best captures
the essence of an enabling structure is transformational leadership. “Transformational
leadership is a process that changes and transforms individuals. It is concerned with
emotions, values, ethics, standards, and long-term goals, and includes assessing
followers’ motives, satisfying their needs, and treating them as full human beings”
(Northouse, 2004, p. 169). This approach moves drastically away from the alienation and
dissatisfaction associated with hindering bureaucracy and more aligns with the premise of
enabling structures. “Transformational leadership refers to the process whereby an
individual engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation
and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northhouse, 2001, p.170). The leader
is more attentive to the needs of the subordinates, resulting in maximized potential.
Leadership decisions affect the outcomes of productivity. Teal (1998) identifies
that management is the underlying issue when an organization is in trouble. “Study large
corporations and you’ll discover that the biggest barrier to change, innovation, and new
ideas is very often management” (p. 148). In order to best serve the client, teachers need
to be able to have the freedom to do what is necessary, within a professional framework,
to instruct the students. Teachers are the foremost authority of what happens to the
student during instruction time and should be given the autonomy to create a productive
environment within their classrooms. Managing a teacher requires a relationship built on
an exchange of best practices ideas. “Managing is not a series of mechanical tasks but a
Impacts of Bureaucracy 12
set of human interactions” (p. 150). A leader who cultivates positive human interactions
will foster the ideals associated with enabling centralization: problem solving,
cooperation, collaboration, flexibility, innovation, and participation.
Moreover, educational systems as a whole should rethink business practices.
Mounting external pressures are resulting in tighter governmental controls, thus stifling a
school’s ability to effectively and efficiently perform its responsibilities. With the present
structure of locally controlled schools, it is incumbent upon the educational leaders to
encourage a leadership structure that maximizes teacher outputs. Enabling bureaucratic
structures would improve employee morale thus foster an environment conducive to
Altering school spending along the lines of the enabling approach would also
serve as a means of empowering the teachers in the schools. The result is increased job
satisfaction. For example, bureaucracy impedes the ability to tract funding into the
classroom. The current trend of educational spending calls for a decentralized approach.
This strategy gives the principals and teachers a prominent role in the decision-making
process in relation to allocation of funds. School-based budgeting is the facilitative arm
of school-based management. It shifts decision-making responsibilities from the district
office to principals, teachers, and community members. Research has shown that
decentralization of school budgeting has been proven to enhance organizational
effectiveness and productivity (Wohlstetter & Van Kirk, 1996).
A Different Approach
The same issues and complaints that plagued public schools some twenty years
ago continue to be identified today. Under the current system of education, bureaucracy
Impacts of Bureaucracy 13
will always be part of the structure. However, the bureaucracy in public education
requires "more discretion and more control, more flexibility and more direction, more
room for professional judgment and more ways of ensuring accountability" (Johnson &
Landman, 2000, p. 113).
The way that school officials delegate their authority could have positive affects
on the effectiveness of teacher performance. Ultimately, the goal of education is to teach
our children to be thoughtful and productive citizens. The focus of administrative actions
should be to empower those in direct contact with the clients: teachers.
There are not many opportunities to start fresh. In New Orleans, as devastating as
Hurricane Katrina was, it also brought new optimism to reinvent the administrative
structure of a failed school system. As captured in an article by Robelen (2005), Leslie
Jacobs, a New Orleans native who serves on the state Board of Education, says, “Katrina
in its devastation really gives the opportunity for a rebirth of a school district, to think it
through and start anew” (p. 22). Educational professionals are excited about recreating a
system that is more student-centered. Brigitte P. Nieland, the Director of Educations for
the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry shares her thoughts: “The district’s
future needs to be approached from a student-focused, rather than a bureaucracy-focused
perspective. Everything should be built around that rather than contracts and employee
demands and all the things that serve adults” (p. 23). "The core idea is that there is a
gigantic uncertainty about when students are going to come back, where they will live,”
says Paul T. Hill, Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the
University of Washington. He continues, “In that situation, the last thing you want to do
is try to rebuild a centralized system; the idea is to create a flexible system of schools" (p.
Impacts of Bureaucracy 14
The city of New Orleans has an opportunity to reorganize a seemingly deficient
educational system and implement a structure that will best serve its purpose to teach
the children to be thinkers and innovators. Teacher professionalism and funding reforms
can stimulate this endeavor. Schlechty (2006) states, “If student performance in
America’s schools is to be improved in any significant way, school leaders must
transform their organizations from bureaucracies into learning organizations. There needs
to be a change in mindset as evidence suggests that the “bureaucratic model has outlived
usefulness” (p. 62).
The goal of any educational system is to teach young people to be productive and
cooperative citizens. In order to reach this outcome, school faculty, inclusive of
administration, must model an approach that best represents the ideals that we expect the
students to master. The teachers have daily access to the clients; the classroom is a
learning organization. The vital components of a learning organization are collaboration,
flexibility, and understanding. These same characteristics need to be present in the
relationships between the administrators and teachers. Mutual respect allows for
professionalism and efficiency. If schools were to transform into reflecting learning
organizations, the primary interests would shift from power and authority to directional
knowledge development. The strength and preparedness of the leader become the
conduits for transformation.
Impacts of Bureaucracy 16
Adler, P. & Borys, B. (1996). Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive.
Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, pp. 61 – 89.
Arches, J. (1991). Social structure, burnout, and job satisfaction. Social Work, 36, pp.
Christie, K., (2000). Leadership comes around again. Phi Delta Kappan, 82, Issue 2, p.
Goldring, E. B., & Ogwa, R. (2002, April). Private practice teachers in public schools:
Reexaminig tensions between professionalism and bureaucratic control. Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research
Association, New Orleans, LA.
Hoy, W. K., & Sweetland, S. R. (2000). Bureaucracies that work: Enabling not coercive.
Journal of School Leadership, 10, pp. 525 – 541.
Hoy, W. K., & Sweetland, S. R. (2001). Designing better schools: The meaning and nature
of enabling school structure. Educational Administration Quarterly, 37, pp. 296 –
King, R.A., Swanson, A.D., & Sweetland, S.R. (2003). School finance: achieving high
standards with equity and efficiency. Boston: Pearson.
Landman, J., & Johnson, S. M. (2000). Sometimes Bureaucracy has its Charms: the
Working Conditions of teachers in deregulated schools. Teachers College Record,
102, Issue 1, pp. 85-124.
Meier, K. J., & Smith, K. B. (1994). Politics, bureaucrats, and schools. Public
Administration Review, 54, n6, pp. 551-558
Northhouse, P.G. (2004). Leadership: Theory and Practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Robelen, Erik W. (2005). New Orleans Eyed as Clean Educational Slate. Education Week,
25, Issue 4.
Schlechty, P. C. (2006). Bureaucracies and learning organizations. School Administrator,
63, Issue 9, p. 62.
Sinden, J. E., Hoy, W. K., & Sweetland, S. R. (2004). An analysis of enabling school
structure: Theoretical, empirical, and research considerations. Journal of
Educational Administration, 42, pp. 462 – 478.
Teal, T. (1998). The human side of management. Harvard Business Review on Leadership
Impacts of Bureaucracy 17
(pp. 147-169). Boston: Harvard Business School.
Wohlstetter, P., & Van Kirk, A. (1996). Redefining school-based budgeting for high
Involvement. In L. O. Picus & J. L. Wattenbarger, (Eds.), Where does the money
go? Resource allocation in elementary and secondary schools. (pp. 212-235).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.