Approaches to successful urban school reform

If urban school reform is to be successful, there must be collaboration between public schools and community-based organizations, argues Mark R. Warren, Harvard University, in a recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review.

He describes three different approaches: a service approach (community full-service schools), the development approach (community sponsorship of new charter schools), and the organizing approach (school-community organizing). Shared lessons across these approaches reveal that schools can become institutional anchors for low-income urban communities.

After-school programs, community learning centers for adults, and health clinics in schools can be established through collaboration. Stronger, more productive relationships between and among parents, educators and community members are formed.

Different models for reform

Warren describes the distinct strengths and weaknesses of each of these models. The service approach provides the strongest direct support for children (see the article on McComb School District in this issue). However, the community school model may be the best place to start, writes Warren, for deeply troubled communities.

Before parent leadership and community power can be developed, the most basic needs of children and families must be addressed. Compared to the service and development models, the organizing approach is more explicitly political, and organizers approach parents not as recipients of services, but as agents of change.

Charter schools undermine efforts

Development of charter schools can undercut efforts for broader reform, Warren writes, because only politically active parents are involved and they are focused on their own children and one new school. Warren asserts that urban school reformers cannot do it alone, yet the new trend in community engagement demonstrates that they can find the help they need within their communities. He argues that a commitment to “linking school reform to community development offers hope for real and sustained improvement both in our children’s learning and in the communities in which they grow and develop.”

“Communities and Schools: A New View of Urban Education Reform,” Harvard Educational Review, Volume 75, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 133-173.

Published in ERN October 2005 Volume 18 Number 8


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