In this piece, Maxwell (2010) describes the results of a study conducted by educational researchers from Annenberg Institute for School Reform, who were interested in evaluating the benefits of grassroots organizing efforts to reform schools.
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According to the lead researcher, Kavitha Mediratta, the study was informed by the need to measure the outcomes of a progressively mounting number of organizing efforts that surfaced in the 1990s with the aim to push for school improvement in various school districts (Maxwell, 2010).
The sample, which encompassed school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and local officials of the community-organizing groups, was selected from seven urban school districts located in dispersed locations in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Texas, and California, among other sites.
Geographic diversity and track-record in education-related organizing were considered in selecting the schools to be included in the study.
The study utilized interviews, observation, surveys, and publicly available school-level data as primary data collection methods to evaluate the outcomes of the grassroots organizing efforts across thee levels – district-, school-, and student-level (Maxwell, 2010).
The findings of this particular study demonstrate that community organizing efforts and community engagement can indeed be used as tools to reform and improve schools.
Overall, the study revealed that grassroots organizing groups contribute to a multiplicity of beneficial improvements, including “…more-robust parental involvement, more-equitable distribution of funding to underserved schools, and better student-attendance rates and academic achievement” (Maxwell, 2010, para. 1).
In all the seven school districts where the study took place, researchers observed that community organizing groups had been instrumental in driving policy and decisions that enhanced resource equity and developed “…capacity in historically low-performing schools serving poor and minority children” (Maxwell, 2010, para. 5).
Specifically, the study found that the corroboration between parents and teachers in Chicago for better-qualified teachers assisted in the development of a new recruitment and training conduit that was used to prepare more members of African-American and Latino descent to teach in understaffed academic institutions, while community organizing and engagement in south Los Angeles helped to not only raise funds to undertake repairs in high schools in selected high-need neighborhoods but also to front a successful campaign intended to persuade education stakeholders to develop and implement a college-preparatory curriculum for all learners attending high school (Maxwell, 2010).
In Texas, the study found that the corroboration between schools and a local community-organizing group had led to improved teacher-parent relationships, not mentioning that this collaboration also promoted strong cultures of achievement.
The findings also positively correlated community-organizing groups with improved academic performance, high student attendance and enhanced willingness on the part of high school graduates planning to attend college in sampled school districts in California and Philadelphia (Maxwell, 2010).
Community-organizing groups, in my view, provide tangible benefits to the school system that cannot be wished away in modern times.
As the education system continues to experience differential impacts arising from convergence of diverse racial groups, falling student grades, financial constraints, declining student attendance level, shortage of trained teachers in areas perceived as ‘difficult,’ and lack of unifying cultural predispositions, stakeholders in the education sector need to seriously consider involving community organizing groups in attempting to remedy the above challenges, especially in academic institutions in high-need school districts, schools serving minority groups as well as historically low-performing schools.
The challenge, in my view, is for the schools to clearly identify which issues need to be addressed by such collaboration and how to develop schemes of cooperation aimed at ameliorating these challenges from the community perspective.
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Due to immense benefits offered by community organizing groups at the school level, it is also my view that school districts should in the future develop policies that aim to enhance collaboration between schools and community groups depending on the specific needs that are to be met to ensure quality delivery of education to all students irrespective of race, financial constraints, locality and other underlying exigencies.
Maxwell, L.A. (2010). Community organizing portrayed as plus for city schools. Web.