The persistent failure of public schooling in low-income communities is a pressing civil rights and social justice issue, but too few policy- and decision-makers know what to do about it, write Keith Catone and Mark Warren on the Annenberg Institute for School Reform website.
However, a recent call for a “community organizing” approach to school reform provides an intriguing solution to the current stalemate. In this mode, school reform becomes part of a broader agenda to empower low-income communities and address social inequalities that affect the education of children. A new book, A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform, focuses on the power of such an approach.
A recent conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called “A Match on Dry Grass-The Conference,” was a significant step forward in education organizing as a national phenomenon. Three hundred community organizers, parent and youth leaders, researchers, and educators from across the country attended, which highlighted several significant directions and challenges for the movement’s growth. It underscored a larger inclusion of and need for youth voice, and debate was especially passionate about engaging teachers in positive ways and collaborating with teacher unions.
Teachers discussed the variety of ways they seek to partner with communities and engage young people in critical education and social change, but frequently cited teacher unions as a hindrance. Addressing these concerns, Eric Zachary, the newly appointed Human Rights and Community Relations Director for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), presented a refreshing new paradigm for community engagement based on regular outreach, communication, and relationship building between local teacher unions and community organizations that his national team is working with local AFT chapters to adopt.
Overall, by nurturing connections between local and national efforts, between youth and adults, between community members and teachers, and between organizing groups and school/district leaders, the authors report that the conference took a major step toward building power to expand a national movement of education organizing.
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