Max Weber & How Bureaucracy Affects Effective School Management


            One of the famous classical management theories is the theory of Bureaucracy by Max Weber (1864-1920) that describes a rational and efficient form of organization characterized by rule-oriented form of organization. According to Miller (2005), Weber’s bureaucracy is believed to dominate the society due to its technical superiority (p.10). The Weber’s concept of bureaucracy disregards the components of social and cultural variations, while emphasizing more on authority or leadership as practical indestructible component. According to Littlejohn and Foss (2004), the ideal concept of Weber in the system of bureaucracy is an organization characterized as hierarchical and layered, rule-driven and insensitive to individual differences and needs (p.242). Within this closed system is the strict adherence to rational-legal form of authority wherein adherence on rules, division of labor and establishment of hierarchy in power is centralized.

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            In application of the bureaucratic theory and its elements, we examine the implementation of so-called ideal bureaucracy in the field of educational leadership, specifically in the organization, Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC). The collaboration of National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) has led to the development of ELCC, which is an authoritative form or rule-motivated system that aims to harness educational leadership, skills and knowledge among learner-centered school (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). Despite of its idealistic goals and aims, ELCC has been criticized for imposing closed-systems, and policy-oriented management.


Overview of Bureaucratic Theory

            Weber’s idea of bureaucracy involves three principal perspectives, particularly (1) authority, (2) specialization and (3) rules. According to Littlejohn and Foss (2004), Weber utilizes a rule oriented and iron-fist form of organization that shall manage the complexities of work under a universal aim and common goal (p.243). In the essence, Weber’s form of bureaucracy is introducing a machine metaphor of organization, which follows a dominant-subordinate rule. In relation to education administration, Smith and Meier (1995) have stated that the politicians and interest groups are the primary initiator of education bureaucracy through their imposed norms of, “reducing the discretion of schools and their personnel to ensure that America’s children would be properly educated, socialized and disciplined (p.39).” In this form of organization, hierarchical authority provides the decision while the targets of this decision are only required to follow and obey the higher authority.

            Weber’s bureaucracy has provided six different facets that illustrate his elements of bureaucratic administration and management. First, Weber considers a clearly defined hierarchy as the principal guidance of operation. Second, bureaucracy should possess and organized workforce or human power resources in order to conduct a well-planned labor-division. Third, Weber emphasizes the idea of centralization wherein decisions are made by one central power. Fourth, Weber mentions about the nature of bureaucratic system wherein bureaucracy should shut itself from the possible external influences and interruptions in order to prevent the alteration of its bureaucratic function; hence, terming it as closed systems. Fifth, emphasizes the setting of rules and standards in establishing the appropriate organizational function. Rules and standards are essential source of rational guide for every contingency that an organization might experience. Lastly, every bureau requires a fully functioning authority that shall provide the embodiment of power, authority and discipline (Miller, 2007 p.10).

             In the study of Hedges (2002), the adaptation of the modern form of educational system evidently emphasizes the usage of bureaucratic control in imposing education standards, guidelines and policies. In effect, school education becomes the victim of bureaucratic manipulation through bureaucrats’ direct administration. According to Littlejohn and Foss (2004), although such management model is still prevalent today, a counterpoint has been the human relations movement that advocates the vesting of more power in ordinary subordinates (p.244).  The system of bureaucracy implicates a machine-form of organization wherein an imposition of a rule is figuratively considered divine and needs to be obeyed under all circumstances. As supported by Allan (2005), the United States pursue a bureaucratic system of education to impose the system of credentialing as a form of ranking, while disregarding the enhancement of citizenry and the individualized capacities (p.176). In fact, professional groups, political environment and educational systems focus more on credential achievement rather the actual capacity or expertise of an individual, group or organization. In such conditions, this illustrates a form of bureaucratic-natured organization following Weber’s model or organization and management. One of the prominent organizations in the field of education that implements the idea of bureaucracy is the ELCC wherein the imposition of guidelines, standards and rules direct the overall education system in achieving the common goal of educational leadership.

The Educational Leadership Constituent Council

            Educational leadership programs are now being reviewed by an organization known as ELCC. The known organizations that have funded and established the development of ELCC are Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). On the other hand, NCATE has offered various leadership programs to assist in the primary goal of the ELCC organization (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). Unfortunately, the principal aims of the organization are not being fulfilled according to its purpose; rather, according to the designated policies and regulations. According to Carr and Fulmer (2004), the leading regulatory assault on educational leadership programs has come from ELCC, which now reviews educational leadership programs in connection with the NCATE (p.148).

            To help the formulation of these institutions, the NPBEA in 1993 to 1995 has initiated the action of formulating a set of universal guidelines that shall cover the NCATE accreditation review of advanced educational leadership programs and curriculum. The primary purpose of the guidelines is to create a universal atmosphere and criteria for preparing candidates for their educational leadership positions (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). ELCC has established their guidelines in contrast to the imposed standards of Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC). In the ISLLC policies, the six policies are almost similarly oriented with ELCC except for its allowance on diversity issues, and promotion of social and cultural factors. In fact, ISLLC together with NPBEA is the first promulgator of educational leadership standards until 1996 (Donaldo and Hunter, 2007 p.43).

            However, by the time ELCC gained wide recognition, they have received more attention than ISLLC standards due to their proposition of programs that aim in professional preparation of educational leadership curriculum as mandated by NCATE through accreditation (Donaldo and Hunter, 2007 p.43). Although according to English (2006), the ELCC that are supposed to uplift the quality of educational administration have unexpectedly brought serious downside in educational leadership and preparation of educational leaders. In order to reduce the burden of knowledge-based system, the NPBEA has incorporated the ISLLC standards within the framework of ELCC guidelines, which consequently produces the ELCC standards. Apparently, the incorporation has not been a practical form of reconciliation since the two ideologies possess contradicting principles (e.g. incorporation of cultural components, acceptance of diversity, etc.) (Donaldo and Hunter, 2007 p.43-44). Carr and Fulmer (2004) have supported this statement by stating that this educational crisis is due to the reduction of variance in preparatory programs, which leads to the decline of educational curriculum at many universities (p.148). According to English (2006), another reason for the decline is the limitations being implied by the set standards of ELCC.

            These standards have assumed the existence of static knowledge-based tied to static social system, which consequently disregards the contribution of diversities or external factors.  From these cited problems of ELCC and the characteristics of its management, a bureaucratic implication has become the major criticism directed towards this organization. To validate the claim of bureaucratic management of ELCC standards, the next section analyzes the guidelines and policies established by NCATE and ELCC.

Guidelines and Policies Developed Under ELCC and NCATE

            The first standards of educational leadership known as, the Guidelines for Advanced Programs in Educational Leadership, has been approved in 1995 by NCATE on the rationale of establishing a universal protocol that shall develop three domains among learner-centered schools, namely (1) knowledge, (2) skills and (3) leadership (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). It is by the Interstate Consortium on School Leadership (ICSL) and NCATE that ELCC standards have overpowered the ISCL resulting in an imbalance within the policy system. According to Hoyle, Bjork and Virginia et al. (2005), the advisory council has concluded that the ISLLC standards are insufficient to Specialty Areas Study Board (SASB) of NCATE for the reason that ISLLC standards are specific only to administrators; hence, implementing them among superintendents, assistant superintendents and principals in one generic group is inappropriate (p.209). Hence, the ELCC standards have been promulgated and these include different sub-curriculums that provide significant focused areas within the principal curriculum of educational leadership, particularly (1) strategic leadership, (2) instructional leadership, (3) organizational leadership, (4) political-community leadership, and (5) internship (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62).

            From the principal guidelines formulated by ELCC and affiliate organizations, the organization (ELCC) has establish a new set of standards that shall evaluate the application of the NCATE and NPBEA (ISLLC) guidelines (Donahoo and Hunter 2007). The seven standards are as follows: Candidates who complete the program are educational leaders who have the knowledge and ability to promote the success of all students by (NPBEA 2002):

(1)  facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a school or district vision of learning supported by the school community

(2)  promoting a positive school culture, providing an effective instructional program, applying best practice to student learning, and designing comprehensive professional growth plans for staff

(3)  managing the organization, operations, and resources in a way that promotes a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment

(4)  collaborating with families and other community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources

(5)  acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner

(6)  understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context

(7)  through substantial, sustained, standards-based work in real settings, planned and guided cooperatively by the institution and school district personnel for graduate credit

Bureaucratic Model of ELCC and Disagreements of Policies

            In strategic leadership, the focus are (1) the establishment of understanding with regards to educational contexts, (2) the fundaments and essence of schooling, (3) acquiring the skills and sufficient knowledge in developing shared vision, (4) utilization of data for conflict resolution and problem framing, (5) accomplishment of goals channeled through good leadership and (6) development of ethical and professional behavior (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). From the components mentioned above, these are synonymous to the idealistic bureau of Weber, which comprises the elements of (1) authority, (2) control and (3) insensitive directives. According to Sheepman, Queen and Peel (2007), this form of leadership creates a notion of imposing control rather than empowering (p.36).

            In instructional leadership, the primary aim is to develop collaborative skills, managing, and designing knowledge and skill-based curricula and instructional programs for learner-centered schooling. The designed curricula need to base on nurturing school cultures, productivity assessment and professional development in the benefit of improving students’ learning environment (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). Despite of the idealism of strategic and instructional leadership, Harris, Ballenger and Leonard (2004) have considered these forms as fronts for bureaucratic management due to its leader-subordinate orientation. In their perceptive study (Harris, Ballenger and Leonard) composed of 159 practicing teachers (sample population), these respondents are asked to evaluate their principal in terms of practical application of standard-based instructional leadership. According to the exhaustive results, 44.7% (n=71 out of 159) of the respondents have answered “usually” and 59.1% (n=94 out 159) answered otherwise, which imply the less effectiveness of standard-based education leadership.

            In organizational leadership, the keyword, “organization”, is the primary focus of development and building in relation to its capacity to support the learning-teaching environment. Meanwhile, in political-community leadership, the implemented educational protocols need to coincide in constitutional, statutory, and regulatory provisions, and policies that ground schools as political bodies and prescribe their work. (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). Compared from the previous insensitive form of ELCC guidelines, the merging of ISLLC standards and ELCC guidelines has not yet been fully reconciliated as evidenced by the difficulty of its application. As supported by Harris, Ballenger and Leonard (2004) and English (2006), these two opposite set of protocols are contradictory and self-opposing.

            In some examples, the nature of standard number 6 and number 4 contradicts in the aspect of focal points. Standard number 4 considers “…collaborating with families and other community members…”, which implies an individualized to societal concern related to the aspect of educational leadership. However, in standard number 6, the statement includes “…responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context”, which violates the individualistic to diversity-oriented approach of number four by focusing on the larger and higher positions of the community.

            In the last stage, internship is the phase wherein professionals apply the concepts and fundamentals of their learning into real practice as their work-embedded learning experience aiming to better synthesize knowledge into practice (Bjork and Kowalski, 2005 p.62). Considering all these components together, ELCC and ISLLC standards conflict evidently by the overpowering bureaucratic orientation of ELCC guidelines. As ICSL, NPBEA and NCATE merge the two natures of policies, contradictions still occur due to the following bureaucratic elements of ELCC: (1) competitive nature (standards 1, 6 and 7; English 2006), (2) over-exemplified specialization (standards 2, 3 and 4; Bjork and Kowalski, 2005), (3) focus on rules and imposition of policies (standards 1 and 7; Sheepman, Queen and Peel (2007), and (4) disregard to the social indifferences and focus on larger context than individualized learning schemes (standards 4 and 6; Bjork and Kowalski, 2005). Similar to the bureaucratic model of Weber, ELCC standards impose a rule-oriented form of learning through its standardized form of educational leadership curriculum. Contrary to the expectations of the program, the decline is due to the limitations of these rules and inconsideration to possible variations within the learning environment. Furthermore, by nature of ELCC, this organization focus only in the static knowledge and static social system that disregards the potential influence of external factors, which greatly characterizes a bureaucratic model of Weber. Lastly, ELCC standards are now being overshadowed by idealism and policy-oriented organization with expectations of achieving one common goal (uplifting of leadership education); however, due to its inconsiderate approach to diversities and outside contributing factors, the decline on curriculum effectiveness occurs.


            In conclusion, the combining of ELCC guidelines and ISLLCL standards as an effort of reducing the bureaucratic nature of the prevailing ELCC protocols have ended in a more complicated and practically problematic set of standards. Applying Weber’s model in the controversy of ELCC, the management strategies of the organization are oriented in standardized form of education, disregard to social and cultural contributions, focus on larger and influential groups in society rather than the individualistic learning capacity (e.g. political influence, etc.), and the negation of possible outside influences. Bureaucratic theory imposes the ideal form of organization that implicates a top-down form of leadership, which unites every subordinate under one common goal. Such conditions are similar to the principles of ELCC as evidenced by their promulgation of standardized educational leadership curriculum. However, with a standardized setting and contradicting statements, the complexity of applying the standards compromise the overall effectiveness of the newly formed ELCC standards, which eventually declines the effectiveness of these policies.


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