Does Management Matter in Schools” is the title of a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study of the “operations, targets and human resources management practices in over 1,800 schools educating 15-year-olds in eight countries.” Researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and the London School of Economics created a management index for each school by assessing school principals’ adherence to best practices in operations, monitoring, target setting, and people management. Measures of student outcomes were also included, when available. Overall, researchers found a positive relationship between management scores and student achievement.

Of the various types of school management structures found in the sample, autonomous government schools, defined as “organizations that are publicly funded but are more decentralized from government control,” had significantly higher management scores and better student outcomes than both traditional government schools and private schools. Schools in India and Brazil were exceptions. These “autonomous government schools” include charter schools in the United States and academies in the United Kingdom.

So what makes charter schools, academies, and similar institutions superior to their government and private school competitors? According to researchers,

Their better performance is not linked with autonomy per se but with how autonomy is used. Having strong accountability of principals to an external governing body and exercising strong leadership through a coherent long-term strategy for the school appear to be two key features that account for a large fraction of the superior management performance of such schools.

To be sure, not all autonomous government schools have these features to the same degree, but it appears that their management structure increases the likelihood of maintaining practices that boost student achievement.