Community Organizing Essential to Long-Term Education Reform, Report Finds

Community organizing plays an important role in maintaining the momentum of school and district reform efforts and sustaining improvements over the long term, a new report commissioned by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds.

Based on a review of case studies, regional and national scans of the field, and an analysis of how community organizing has affected education policy, school capacity, and student outcomes and prepared by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, the report, The Strengths & Challenges of Community Organizing as an Education Reform Strategy (35 pages, PDF), found that by leveraging the collective power of parents, youth, residents, and institutions, community organizing can alter longstanding power imbalances and patterns of inequality that result in failing schools.

"Current federal policies encourage states to create standards and assessments to measure student learning and create a series of rewards and sanctions for schools that fail to show growth," said co-authors Michelle Renee and Sara McAlister. "Although this approach focuses on holding students accountable for learning and teachers for teaching, it does not address the lack of resources or the conditions students need in order to learn."

Commissioned in part to assist grantees of NMEF's District Level Systems Change initiative, the study outlines effective community organizing strategies, including working at multiple levels through alliances and coalitions and by using data and research. In conjunction with the report, NMEF released a directory of community-based organizations working for education reform in New England.

"The importance of the role of community-based organizations and their constituents in sustaining the reforms that serve their community is often grossly underplayed," said AISR executive director Warren Simmons. "By investing in a more community-centered approach to education reform, philanthropy can increase the impact of reforms it espouses and create results that are more robust and sustainable."

"New NMEF Report: Community Organizing Missing Piece in Education Reform Puzzle." Nellie Mae Education Foundation Press Release 01/26/2011.