Community Activism and School Reform




Eva Gold
Research for Action
215-823-2500, ext. 501

Leah Mundell
Research for Action
215-823-2500, ext. 520

Office Hours:  By appointment and/or before class by arrangement

Course Description:

Educators have come to acknowledge the need for parent and community involvement to make schools successful, but the important role that parents and community groups can play as change agents is often contentious.  This course will examine the work of groups external to school districts that both support education professionals and challenge schools and school systems to meet the needs of children from low-income, often racially, ethnically or linguistically minority families.  The course will pay special attention to groups that draw on the tradition of community organizing and that have turned their attention to education issues. In the past decade, these groups have grown in both numbers and influence.  They are challenging the predominant school reform paradigm that looks to education professionals as the sole drivers of change. 

Education organizing groups are contributing to a new school reform paradigm that connects what happens inside school systems with what happens in communities and the dynamics and power relations between the two.  In an era when market driven models of education are gaining ground, these groups are pressing for greater democratization of public education as a means both to challenge the education bureaucracy and to address issues of social injustice in order to make public education more equitable and responsive.   

The course will introduce the theories behind different models of school/parent/ community relationships and discuss the importance of civic capacity to school reform.  Guest speakers, in addition to field observations, will bring the different models of parent/school/community relationships to life in the Philadelphia school reform context. 

Course Requirements:

This course requires class discussion of assigned readings, participation in field observations, and analytical writing. Graduate-level students will have additional reading assignments and response papers and their final paper will require additional research.  In-depth fieldwork will be an option for both undergraduate and graduate students. Grades will be based upon written and oral reports as well as class attendance and participation.

Each student will:

  1. make a minimum of 2 field observations (1.5-3 hours constitutes a single visit) with a community organizing group or civic coalition (see below);
  2. present orally in class on one or more readings;
  3. write three, 4-5 page reading response papers;
  4. write a final 10-12 page paper that will integrate class readings, field observations and further research into a related topic of interest to the student.  This paper will be discussed in detail both in class and between the instructor and each student.


Class participation—15%
Reading response papers and fieldnotes—30%
Oral presentations-10%
Final Paper – 45%


A bulk pack containing the readings can be purchased at CampusCopyCenter, 39th and Walnut Streets. (215-386-6410).  The articles should be read prior to the class meeting for which they are listed.  (All articles are in the bulk pack unless otherwise indicated as available on-line, on reserve at Rosengarten Reserve in Van Pelt Library, and/or to be borrowed from the instructor.)

The books are available at the PennBookCenter, 130 S. 34th St. (215-222-7600)

Anyon, Jean, Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform, NY: Teachers College Press, 1997.

Shirley, Dennis, Community Organizing for Urban School Reform, Austin: University of Texas, 1997.

Valdés, Guadalupe, Con Respeto: Bridging the Distances Between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools, NY: Teachers College Press, 1996.

Sites for Field Observations (Class trips and/or by individual arrangement)

Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP)
                Contact:  Marta Aviles, 215-634-8922

Philadelphia Student Union
                Contact:  Eric Braxton, 215-546-3290

Youth United for Change (YUC)
                Contact:  Andi Perez, 215-423-9588

Philadelphia ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)
                Contact: Allie Kronley, 215-765-0042

Class Meeting Dates, Topics, and Readings

Introduction to the Course






Reflection on students’ experiences of parent, student and/or community activism when they attended school

Overview of the course

Video in Class:  New Schools -- A Video about New York ACORN

The Social and Cultural Divides between Schools and Communities



Valdés, Guadalupe, (1996). Con Respeto:  Bridging the Distances Between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools, NY: Teachers College  Press. Introduction and Chapters 1-6




Valdés, Chapters 7-9

Ballenger, C. ( 1992). Because you like us:  The language of control.  Harvard Educational Review. (62), 2, pp. 49-58

Willis, A.I. (1995). Reading the world of school literacy: Contextualizing the experience of a young African American male. Harvard Educational Review. (65), 1,  pp. 30-49

The Political and Economic Isolation of Urban Schools


Anyon, Jean, (1997) Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform, NY:  Teachers College Press.

In class:  Video-- The Democratic Promise:  Saul Alinsky and His Legacy

Community Organizing for School Reform:  What Does It Look Like?



Response paper #1 due in class

Mediratta, K., Fruchter, N. & Lewis, A.C., (2002). Organizing for School Reform: How Communities are Finding their Voices and Reclaiming their Public Schools. NY:  NYU/IESP.  Available from the instructors

Zachary, E. & shola olatoya, (2001) A Case Study:  Community Organizing for Improvement in the South Bronx. NY:  NYU, Institute for  Education and Social Policy, Community Improvement Program  Available from the instructors

Gold, E., Pickeron-Davis, M. with Brown, C. (2002).  Case Study, AOP (Alliance Organizing Project).

Nian-chu Kiang, P. (1990). Southeast Asian Parent Empowerment:  The Challenges of Changing Demographics in Lowell, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education.

In class: Sheppard Elementary School video and guest speaker, Marta Aviles, formerly a parent leader at the Sheppard School and currently an organizer with the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP)

Social Capital Theory


Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital. Journal of Democracy 6: pp. 65-78.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). "The Forms of Capital," in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of  Education. Edited by J. Richardson. New York: Greenwood Press, pp.  241-258. 

Coleman, J. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. American Journal of Sociology (supplement) 94: pp. S95-S120.

Foley, M. W., B. Edwards, and M. Diani. (2001). “Social Capital Reconsidered,” in Civil Society and the Social Capital Debate in Comparative Perspective. Edited by M. W. Foley, B. Edwards, and M. Diani. Hanover, NH: TuftsUniversity Press. pp. 266-280, 289-291.









Response paper #2 due in class

Horvat, E. M., E. B. Weininger, and A. Lareau. (2003). From Social Ties to Social Capital: Class Differences in the Relations Between Schools and Parent Networks. American Educational Research Journal 40: pp. 319-351.

Mundell, L. (2003) “Faith Partnerships and the Politics of Presence,” in Community in the Making: Faith-Based

Organizations in the Battles for Philadelphia’s Public Schools. University of California, Santa Cruz, dissertation, pp. 47-51, 53-65, 77-118.

Portes, A., and P. Landolt. (1996). The Downside of Social Capital. The American Prospect 7: pp.18-21,94.

Warren, M.R. (2001). “CommunityBuilding and Political Renewal,” in Dry Bones Rattling: CommunityBuilding to Revitalize American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (pp.15-39).

In class: Members of the Coalition to SaveStantonSchool

Social Capital Theory in Practice:  Community Organizing for School Reform


Shirley, Dennis, (1997) Community Organizing for Urban School Reform, Austin:  University of Texas. Introduction and Chapters 1-6 

03/09/03: Spring Break

Response paper #3 due in class

Shirley, Dennis, (1997) Community Organizing for Urban School Reform, Austin:  University of Texas. Chapters 7-12


The Change Process:  Citizen Participation and Accountability for School Improvement


Final Paper Proposal due in class

Gold, E., Simon, E. with Brown, C.  (2002)  Successful Community Organizing for School Reform. (under Strong Neighborhoods, StrongSchools, Indicators Project for Education Organizing)

Simon, E., Gold, E. with Brown, C. (2002). Case Study:  Austin Interfaith.

Mediratta, K., and Fruchter, N. (2003) From Governance to Accountabiity:  Building relationships that make schools work, NY:  Drum Major Institute. Available from the instructors 

Youth Organizing





Skelton, N., Boyte, H.C., Leonard, L.S. (2002) Youth Civic Engagement:  Reflections on an Emerging Public Idea, Minneapolis: MN:  Center for Democracy and Citizenship

Edwards, D., Johnson, N.A., McGillicuddy, (2003).  An Emerging Model for Working with Youth, Occasional Papers Series on Youth Organizing, 01,

HoSang, D., (2003). Youth and Community Organizing Today, Occasional Papers Series on Youth Organizing, 02,

Ginwright, S., (2003).  Youth Organizing:  Expanding Possibilities for Youth Development, Occasional Papers Series on Youth Organizing, 03,

In class:  Guest speakers from Philadelphia youth organizing groups


Draft of Final Paper due: either leave at Urban Studies or email.           

Passover—no class

Schools as Public Spheres:  Civic Capacity and School Reform






Anderson, G. (1998).  Toward authentic participation :  Deconstructing the discourses of participatory reforms in education. American Educational Research Journal. (35), 4, Winter, pp. 571-603.

Fine, M. (1993).  (Ap)parent Involvement. Equity and Choice, (9)3, Spring, pp. 4-8.

Rollow, S. G. & Bryk, A.S. (1993).  Democratic politics and school improvement:  The potential of Chicago school reform. In C. Marshall (ed.), The New Politics of Race and Gender:  The 1993 Yearbook of the Politics of Education. London, Falmer Press.                  

Bryk, A.S. & Schneider, B.L. (2002). Trust in Schools:  A Core Resource for Improvement. NY:  Russell Sage Foundation, Chapters 1 & 2, pp.  3-34.  


Keith, N.Z.  (1999). Whose community schools?  New discourses, old  patterns.  Theory Into Practice. 38), 4, Autumn, pp. 223-234

Matthews, D. (1996).  Is There a Public for Public Schools?Dayton, Ohio:  Kettering Institute.  Chapters 1 & 2, pp. 1-26.

Stone, C. N.  (2001). Civic Capacity and Urban Education.  Unpublished paper.

Stone, C.N., Henig, J. R., Jones, B.D. & Pierannunzi, C. (2001).  Building Civic Capacity:  The Politics of Reforming Urban Schools.  Lawrence,

KS: University of Kansas Press. Chapters 6 & 7. On reserve, Rosengarten Library 

Christman, J.B., (2003).  A Philadelphia story:  Civic engagement and ambitious systemwide reform.  Phi Delta Kappan, (40), 3:  pp.  215-224. 

04/29/04: Final Paper due at 3PM.