Book Review

Community Organizing for Stronger Schools

Strategies and Successes

by Kavitha Mediratta, Seema Shah and Sara McAlister, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2009, 240 pp. with index, $54.95 hardcover, $29.95 softcover

Public school reform has a new sponsor in cities across the United States. Community organizing is a group process in which parents, students, community members and educators join together. Whether this movement, mostly confined to urban areas, is a positive development depends on the situation.

Community Organizing for Stronger Schools

Superintendents can channel community organizing efforts or can dam up the process. This book can help administrators decide which role to play.

The authors, associates at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform in Providence, R.I., investigated how communities have organized to build political and social capital around at-risk schools. They provide a historical perspective of the inherent power in low socioeconomic communities and how that force can be mobilized.

Community organizing in this context is “to engage people to actively confront and change unjust conditions,” the trio writes. How is this intent realized? It begins with harnessing the power of large numbers of people to compel decision makers to sit up and pay attention.

The book examines community organizing groups in the Bronx, Chicago, Oakland, Calif., and Austin, Texas. The results are mixed and somewhat difficult to compare. Examples point to some improved student outcomes, although there is not a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Greater evidence exists for establishing new priorities for school districts, more financial equity and more capacity to handle cultural differences.

Perhaps the biggest change these community organizing groups facilitate is “third-order change” — change in the core beliefs of educators and residents concerning class distinctions, race and educational potential.

Reviewed by Arthur Stellar, superintendent, Burke County Public Schools, Morganton, N.C.