Education Organizing – The Path to Real Reform?
By Amy Buffenbarger
Many current reform efforts focus on a system of rewards, sanctions and narrow test-based accountability, leaving little room for family and community input. A new guide, however, demonstrates how “community organizing offers an alternative vision for school reform.”
In local communities across the country, NEA members and leaders are working closely with parents, families, and community members to close achievement gaps, improve low-performing schools, and transform relationships between schools and their communities. Sixteen of these partnerships are profiled in the NEA’s Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0 report, and more through the Priority Schools Campaign.
Community organizations surrounding lower-performing schools are also getting involved with school improvement efforts. A new guide from the Center for Education Organizing, part of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, highlights strategies and resources for groups considering organizing around education issues. The Center for Education Organizing has been assisting community groups trying to improve neighborhood schools in New York City for the past 15 years.
As the guide states, “organizing begins with the premise that the people closest to the local schools – parents, students and teachers – are in the best position to make schooling decisions and to sustain educational improvement.”
Education organizing is an extension of community organizing already in progress around other issues, such as neighborhood safety and local economic development, according to the Center for Education Organizing. While the premise of free public education is to provide opportunity for all students to succeed, income gaps and the inequities that result are only growing between wealthy and poor school districts.
“Rather than leveling the playing field, under-funded and low-quality schools reproduce and reinforce the very problems communities organize themselves to tackle – poverty, lack of access to decent jobs, over-incarceration, etc.,” the guide explains.
Research shows that family and community engagement are critical components of school improvement success.Kit Carson Elementary School in Las Vegas is one example of how family engagement and community partners can help boost achievement.