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Community Action for School Reform

Howell S. Baum

Publication Year: 2003

Community Action for School Reform tells the story of a partnership between Baltimore community activists and a university as they created an organization to improve neighborhood schools. The book examines the challenges they faced, such as persuading community members that they had the necessary knowledge to do something about the schools, starting and sustaining an organization, conducting and using research, engaging the school system, and funding their work.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book chronicles a journey. In 1994, a few Southeast Baltimore community activists and I decided to see what a community group could do to improve schools. And there is no other way to say it: we had next to no idea what we would do. Nine years later, the Southeast Education Task Force has organized parents, developed and begun implementing a community plan on...

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pp. xiii

Parts of chapter 10 previously were published in “Education and the Empowerment Zone: Ad Hoc Development of an Inter-Organizational Domain,” Journal of Urban Affairs 21:3 (1999): 289–307, reprinted in agreement with Blackwell Publishing. Parts of chapter 14 previously were published...

Part 1

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-13

Urban schools enroll one-fourth of American students who represent one-third of all low-income students and 43 percent of minority students.1 Three-fourths of central city students are African American or Hispanic, and 42 percent are eligible for lunch subsidies. Poor and minority students are the majority in many American cities. Moreover, poverty is concentrated: those...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 15-27

A simple way of describing education reformers’ aims is to say that they want teachers, administrators, parents, and the others who influence children’s learning to act on better knowledge. Teachers should incorporate tested models in their practice. Administrators should adapt sophisticated management methods in operating schools and school systems. Parents should raise...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 29-40

In small-town, rural America of the mid-nineteenth century, the education field was tightly linked. Communities established schools, hired and closely watched teachers, and employed graduates. A great deal changed in education and elsewhere by the time Emery and Trist (1965) remarked on turbulence and the necessity of building interinstitutional networks. Some contemporary...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 41-56

Baltimore was once one of America’s largest cities. Though the population is declining, it was still 736,000 in 1990.1 Yet even when 1 million people lived there in 1950, it had the feel of a small, working-class town. The city rose with industry. It anchored the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad....

Part 2

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Chapter 5

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pp. 59-69

Bobby English decided to chair the education project in order to create the “study-action group for schools.” As community and university partners, she and I began to discuss the details in January 1995. We said little about the entity’s purpose or goals, beyond improving education. We talked about its first activities. It would interview parents and school staff to assess the schools...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 73-85

The coordinating committee reconvened two weeks later to review the kickoff and to figure out what to do next. People congratulated themselves on a success. They had drawn a good turnout, including principals, and participants had talked earnestly and respectfully. Yet Ed Rutkowski noted that few came...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 87-96

To help parents and community members take active roles in improving education, the Task Force had to build networks that included them, the school system, and other entities. This chapter examines efforts to connect with the school system, and the next focuses on parents and community institutions...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 97-118

In the late summer of 1996, around the time the safety assessment was getting started, Laura Weeldreyer notified Southeast Baltimore principals that she had received a grant for parent organizing and wanted to work with interested schools. She heard from a half dozen schools, talked with the principals, and, in consultation with the Task Force, settled on two. Parent organizing would be a learning experience...

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Chapter 9

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pp. 121-127

Volunteers get satisfaction from doing good. Organizations that deal with large or poorly defined problems—that want volunteers to study before acting—need people who are comfortable with research and reflection; otherwise, desires to do something will displace analysis and planning. Although the...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 129-144

Years earlier, in 1993 and 1994, while the last members of the Southeast Planning Council struggled to implement their plan, the Clinton administration was designing its centerpiece initiative to aid distressed urban areas, the Empowerment Zone. As eventually conceived, the program would give $100 million in federal funds to a city while requiring it to raise matching money....

Part 5

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Chapter 11

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pp. 147-159

The Task Force made efforts to tie action to research. This chapter examines ways the Task Force learned from action.We review two early initiatives where people wanted to do something but were unsure what to do and the logic of action outweighed the logic of research. Yet participants treated action as a...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 161-177

The Task Force used research to make some decisions.We look at an effort to decide whether to support K–8 schools and another to determine what school facilities Southeast Baltimore needed. In aiming to change schooling, both focused on what Task Force members understood most confidently: its structure rather than its technical...

Part 6

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Chapter 13

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pp. 181-191

Much of what the Task Force did would have been impossible without money. Community members must lead an organization, but they lack the skills, time, and resources to maintain one and to take extended action on their own. They must persuade others to give them money for these purposes.We look here at...

Part 7

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Chapter 14

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pp. 195-207

The next three chapters analyze challenges in forming interinstitutional networks. We begin with university-community partnerships, move to community-school partnerships, and finish by looking at tensions between attachment and knowledge in interorganizational practice. The Southeast Education Task Force letterhead reads:..

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Chapter 15

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pp. 209-224

The Southeast Education Task Force believed in parent and community involvement in education because it was democratic and because, as research showed, it benefitted children. Yet the Task Force had little success in developing substantial community-school partnerships.We look here at the nature...

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Chapter 16

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pp. 225-237

School reform, as any action in a turbulent field, depends on creating a network that collectively has the capacity to control the environment and the intelligence to bring about results. The Southeast Education Task Force is an effort to design such attachments and knowledge. The past two chapters have described the difficulties of these efforts. Community organizations are...

Part 8

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Chapter 17

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pp. 241-255

The Southeast Education Task Force has carried out a community approach to school reform. More than 1,000 people, supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars, have participated over eight years. How should we evaluate these efforts?...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 256-271

The Southeast Education Task Force’s community approach to reforming schools offers several lessons. First, it can be examined as a model for a new type of entity—a grassroots organization to link parents and other community members to neighborhood schools and the system administration to improve education. Second, as such, the Task Force helps understand what a...


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pp. 273-275


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pp. 277-289


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pp. 291-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486672
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791457597
Print-ISBN-10: 0791457591

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Community and school -- Maryland -- Baltimore -- Case studies.
  • Education, Urban -- Maryland -- Baltimore -- Case studies.
  • School improvement programs -- Maryland -- Baltimore -- Case studies.
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