Project Explores Community Groups' Roles in Reform

John Gehring
October 6, 2004

While a growing number of community organizations are working to improve urban schools, those grassroots efforts usually receive scant attention from policy wonks.

But researchers at the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University?s school of education have begun a six-year study that will take a closer look at community groups? efforts to address the most stubborn problems in urban education.

For More Info
"Constituents of Change: Community Organizations and Public Education Reform," is available online from the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a philanthropy based in Flint, Mich., is sponsoring the study with a $1.8 million grant.

The first report, ?Constituents of Change: Community Organizations and Public Education Reform,? released last week, focuses on describing the eight community organizations selected for the project.

The groups work in Austin, Texas; Chicago; Los Angeles; Miami; Milwaukee; New York City; Oakland, Calif.; and Philadelphia. They include, among others, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN; the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope; and the Oakland Community Organizations.

Blend of Strategies
Acorn has beefed up its education advocacy work, for example, by using a blend of door-knocking campaigns and sophisticated policy analysis. ("Studies, Sit-Ins Earn ACORN's Activists Voice in Education," Feb. 18, 2004.)

In the late 1990s, the number of community groups working on urban school reform increased significantly, said Kavitha Mediratta, the senior project director at the institute and the report?s author.

?But there hasn?t been any systematic look at how community organizing contributes to changes in district capacity,? she said.

?We can already see an impact these groups are having,? she said. ?The question is, can those changes be sustained? How do these groups establish the internal capacity to be effective over the long term??

Over the next two years, other reports will explore the role of community organizing from the perspectives of both educators and activists.

The study also will examine high school students? efforts at organizing to improve their schools and districts. ("Students? Voices Chime In to Improve Schools," May 12, 2004.)

Vol. 24, Issue 06, Page 5