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Advocacy: The Left's Getting Itself Organized, Too

image from 3.bp.blogspot.comUnwilling to let the juiced-up centrist groups have advocacy all to themselves, the Annenberg Institute just announced its own Ford Foundation-funded center for education organizing  (PDF),  whose focus will be " democratic participation by parents, students and community members that challenges persistent patterns of educational inequality."  Take that, charter school- and merit pay-fans.  No word yet on how big the center will be, or who's heading it.  For what it's worth, Richard Rothstein tells me that the Broader, Bolder Alliance is still going strong -- Elaine Weiss is the head -- but BBA's focus is "building policy support for narrowing the social and economic inequalities that children bring to school..." rather than advocacy and community organizing.  So now you know.  Image via.

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Press Release




Eric Zachary

Phil Gloudemans
(401) 863-3552 or 
(617) 257-2958 


PROVIDENCE -- While many political leaders and pundits contend that school choice, charter schools and heightened school and teacher accountability are fixes to the problems of U.S. public education, a powerful solution is frequently ignored in the debate over the future of public schools: democratic participation by parents, students and community members that challenges persistent patterns of educational inequality.

To build up this urgently needed alternative to traditional approaches to school reform, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University (AISR) announced today the formation of the Center for Education Organizing.

Headquartered in New York City, the center will focus on providing policy and strategic support to community organizations that increases the capacity of low- to moderate-income parents and students of color to lead and participate in the process of transforming America’s urban schools. It will concentrate on strengthening relationships among and between education organizing and civil rights groups, advocacy organizations, reform support organizations, and education researchers, as well as exploring ways to facilitate alliance building between community groups and teacher unions. Furthermore, it will help build a strong research-based policy agenda for reform that reflects the community’s aspirations.

“The center’s formation is inspired by the belief that education is a civil right, and our mission is to improve conditions and outcomes in urban communities traditionally poorly served by educational institutions,” says Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. “More and more parents and students across the country have been organized from the ground up to achieve real gains in student learning, a more equitable distribution of resources and policies that are more favorable to public schools. Our goal is to contribute to the development of a national movement for educational justice.”

Members of the institute’s Community Organizing and Engagement practice located in New York, Providence, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. will staff the center.

With support from the Ford Foundation and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, the center integrates the expertise of a university-based research institute; the staff’s 15 years of on-the-ground experience supporting education organizing for school improvement in New York City; and the Annenberg Institute’s long-standing reputation as a seasoned and principled convener of a range of education stakeholders. An extensive, year-long planning process, including individual, face-to-face meetings with leaders of more than fifty organizing groups, networks, unions and funders across the nation, preceded its formation.

These education stakeholders expressed concern over ongoing local, state and federal policies that encourage market-based curriculum and instruction decisions. These mandates are frequently imposed on schools and systems without community involvement and planning across districts and communities.

Spurred by these concerns, the center aims to support the efforts of independent community organizations and national and regional community organizing networks and coalitions to affect federal education policy and impact local education reform.

“The current, market-based strategy relies on competition and external rewards and consequences as the motivators for educational innovation and improved student achievement,” adds Simmons. “This approach often weakens the community consensus that is needed to sustain reform, and by stifling knowledge sharing, it's far more difficult to narrow achievement gaps across schools.”

Support from the Institute’s Community Organizing and Engagement staff has helped education organizing groups in New York City secure important policy victories. For example, in 2003, a coalition of community groups won the creation of a pilot Lead Teacher Program in ten South Bronx schools. The program had such a dramatic impact on teacher retention and student reading progress that the Department of Education (DOE) expanded the program into 100 additional schools just two years later.

Between 2007 and 2009, the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) secured $30 million in new funding for middle schools. Staff from the Annenberg Institute provided data analysis, research, and strategic support in building alliances with key stakeholders, including the teachers union, DOE officials, and advocacy groups, to help secure the victory. Institute support also helped the Urban Youth Collaborative win their campaigns to keep free Metro transit cards for New York City students and require improved reporting and accountability in student discipline cases.

The center will also build on the Annenberg Institute’s commitment to producing high-quality research about and in support of education organizing. Reporting on a five-year national study, the book “Community Organizing for Stronger Schools,” authored by AISR staff and published by Harvard Education Press, is considered a foundational piece in education research on organizing. Additionally, AISR-applied research studies such as the Community Organizing as an Education Reform Strategy Series, which documented the strengths and challenges of community organizing for education reform, provided easily accessible and useful information to community organizers, philanthropic foundations and policymakers.

In addition to using research to share lessons from the field, AISR has produced a documentary film entitled “Parent Power,” that traces the evolution and success of education organizing in New York City over the past fifteen years. Rather than treating parents solely as educational consumers, “Parent Power” documents the transformative role of organized parent groups in improving neighborhood schools and reforming district practices for students poorly served by the New York City school system. Premiering in Fall 2011, the film’s advance screenings are underway now, and copies will be available for order following the premiere.

“The people most impacted by public education policies and practices — students, their parents and community residents — can and should be active participants in developing, advocating for and implementing those policies and practices,” says Richard Gray, Jr., co-director of AISR’s Community Organizing and Engagement group. “Community organizing for education reform is grounded in the belief that parents and communities with access to support and information can be full partners — not just in school reform — but in the daily educational life of students.”

The center will offer all of the following:


  • Developing workshops, presentations or webinars for youth and adult leaders and/or organizers on education policy issues and the unique education organizing context
Research and Policy Analysis
  • Monitoring and analyzing federal education policy, as well as key issues in states and districts both to inform local work and to identify key directions in the national education debate
  • Rapidly distilling relevant research or education data to inform organizing campaigns
  • Encouraging and facilitating collaboration between community groups and teacher unions and between education organizers and other stakeholders
  • Helping to connect communities with research and policy experts, civil rights organizations, reform support organizations and others who can assist them with their organizing work
Building the Field
  • Disseminating knowledge of successful organizing strategies
  • Connecting groups working on similar issues and hosting virtual and face-to-face meetings for leaders to learn from and with each other
  • Initiating and supporting national conversations on strategies and next steps in building a stronger movement for educational justice


> The Center for Education Organizing can be reached at (212) 328-9280or educationorganizing@brown.edu

> Sign up to receive news from the Center for Education Organizing


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Money pouring into educational advocacy groups of all stripes is creating white-collar jobs for all kinds of people who claim to be standing up for blue-collar families, when it could be going into classrooms and actually teaching (rather than advocating for) young people.

Alexander, you're disoriented. Point left, please. (It isn't in the diraction of any big-money foundation takover of "grass roots", thanks anyway.)

The more foundations the better, where each organizaton with their own personal agenda and axe to grind with other educational programs and formats can continue to battle and wage war against one another, where I am beginning to believe that it is coming down to the last man standing will have succeeded in controlling the destiny of our educational system. It is a shame that instead fo alienating opposing groups or ideology, a mission statement where compromise and understanding might be more appropriate in these times where lines are continually being drawn into the sand.

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