front cover of Community Organizing for Urban School Reform
Community Organizing for Urban School Reform
By Dennis Shirley
University of Texas Press, 1997

Observers of all political persuasions agree that our urban schools are in a state of crisis. Yet most efforts at school reform treat schools as isolated institutions, disconnected from the communities in which they are embedded and insulated from the political realities which surround them.

Community Organizing for Urban School Reform tells the story of a radically different approach to educational change. Using a case study approach, Dennis Shirley describes how working-class parents, public school teachers, clergy, social workers, business partners, and a host of other engaged citizens have worked to improve education in inner-city schools. Their combined efforts are linked through the community organizations of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which have developed a network of over seventy "Alliance Schools" in poor and working-class neighborhoods throughout Texas. This deeply democratic struggle for school reform contains important lessons for all of the nation's urban areas. It provides a striking point of contrast to orthodox models of change and places the political empowerment of low-income parents at the heart of genuine school improvement and civic renewal.


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The Fifth Dimension
An After-School Program Built on Diversity
Michael Cole
Russell Sage Foundation, 2006
The significant increase in the number of working mothers over the last twenty years has led to widespread worries about the plight of "latchkey kids," who return from school each day to empty homes. Concerned that unsupervised children might be at greater risk of delinquency, schools and communities across the nation began providing after-school activities. But many of these programs were hastily devised with little understanding of what constitutes a quality program that meets children's developmental needs. The Fifth Dimension explores and evaluates one of the country's most successful and innovative after-school programs, providing insightful and practical lessons about what works and doesn't work after-school. The Fifth Dimension program was established in the 1980s as a partnership between community centers and local colleges to establish an educational after-school program. With an emphasis on diversity and computer technology, the program incorporates the latest theories about child development and gives college students the opportunity to apply their textbook understanding of child development to real learning environments. The Fifth Dimension explores the design, implementation, and evaluation of this thriving program. The authors attribute the success of the Fifth Dimension to several factors. First, the program offers a balance of intellectually enriching exercises with development enhancing games. Second, by engaging undergraduates as active participants in both learning and social activities, the program gives local community organizations a large infusion of high-quality help for their educational efforts. Third, by rewarding children for their achievements and good behavior with greater flexibility in choosing their own schedules, the Fifth Dimension acts as a powerful, enduring motivator. The Fifth Dimension program serves as a model for what an enriching after-school program can be. The product of years of innovation and careful assessment, The Fifth Dimension is a valuable resource for all who are interested in developing successful community-based learning programs.

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Hope for Justice and Power
Broad-based Community Organizing in the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation
Kathleen Staudt
University of North Texas Press, 2020

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Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School
Education As If Citizenship Mattered
Michael C. Johanek and John L. Puckett
Temple University Press, 2006
What is the mission of American public education? As a nation, are we still committed to educating students to be both workers and citizens, as we have long proclaimed, or have we lost sight of the second goal of encouraging students to be contributing members of a democratic society?In this enlightening book, Michael Johanek and John Puckett describe one of America's most notable experiments in "community education." In the process, they offer a richly contextualized history of twentieth-century efforts to educate students as community-minded citizens. Although student test scores now serve to measure school achievement, the authors argue compellingly that the democratic goals of citizen-centered community schools can be reconciled with the academic performance demands of contemporary school reform movements. Using the twenty-year history of community-centered schooling at Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem as a case study—and reminding us of the pioneering vision of its founder, Leonard Covello—they suggest new approaches for educating today's students to be better "public work citizens."

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Mothers United
An Immigrant Struggle for Socially Just Education
Andrea Dyrness
University of Minnesota Press, 2010
In urban American school systems, the children of recent immigrants and low-income parents of color disproportionately suffer from overcrowded classrooms, lack of access to educational resources, and underqualified teachers. The challenges posed by these problems demand creative solutions that must often begin with parental intervention. But how can parents without college educations, American citizenship, English literacy skills, or economic stability organize to initiate change on behalf of their children and their community?

In Mothers United, Andrea Dyrness chronicles the experiences of five Latina immigrant mothers in Oakland, California—one of the most troubled urban school districts in the country—as they become informed and engaged advocates for their children’s education. These women, who called themselves “Madres Unidas” (“Mothers United”), joined a neighborhood group of teachers and parents to plan a new, small, and autonomous neighborhood-based school to replace the overcrowded Whitman School. Collaborating with the author, among others, to conduct interviews and focus groups with teachers, parents, and students, these mothers moved from isolation and marginality to take on unfamiliar roles as researchers and community activists while facing resistance from within the local school district.

Mothers United illuminates the mothers’ journey to create their own space—centered around the kitchen table—that enhanced their capacity to improve their children’s lives. At the same time, Dyrness critiques how community organizers, teachers, and educational policy makers, despite their democratic rhetoric, repeatedly asserted their right as “experts,” reproducing the injustice they hoped to overcome. A powerful, inspiring story about self-learning, consciousness-raising, and empowerment, Mothers United offers important lessons for school reform movements everywhere.

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Organization without Authority
Dilemmas of Social Control in Free Schools
Ann Swidler
Harvard University Press, 1979

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Talk about Sex
How Sex Ed Battles Helped Ignite the Right
Janice M. Irvine
Temple University Press, 2023
Praise for Talk about Sex

“Must reading for scholars, sexuality researchers, activists, and public policy and public health planners engaged in efforts to promote education on sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV infection prevention for adolescents in schools.”—JAMA 
Talk about Sex is a rich social history about the political transformations, cultural dynamics, and emotional rhetorical strategies that helped the right wing manufacture controversies on the local and national levels in the United States. Although the emergence of a politicized Christian Right is commonly dated at the mid-seventies, with the founding of groups like the Moral Majority, Talk about Sex tells the story of a powerful right-wing Christian presence in politics a full decade earlier. These activists used inflammatory sexual rhetoric—oftentimes deceptive and provocative—to capture the terms of public debate, galvanize voters, and reshape the culture according to their own vision. 

This 20th Anniversary Edition includes a new preface and epilogue by the author that examines current controversies over public education on sexuality, gender, and race. 
Demonstrating how the right wing draws on the cultural power of sexual shame and fear to build a political movement, Talk about Sex explores the complex entanglements of sexual knowledge, politics, and discourses.

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Through the Schoolhouse Door
Folklore, Community, Currriculum
Paddy Bowman and Lynne Hamer
Utah State University Press, 2011

The creative traditions and expressive culture of students' families, neighborhoods, towns, religious communities, and peer groups provide opportunities to extend classrooms, sustain learning beyond school buildings, and better connect students and schools with their communities. Folklorists and educators have long worked together to expand curricula through engagement with local knowledge and informal cultural arts-folk arts in education is a familiar rubric for these programs-but the unrealized potential here, for both the folklore scholar and the teacher, is large. The value folklorists "place on the local, the vernacular, and the aesthetics of daily life does not reverberate" throughout public education, even though, in the words of Paddy Bowman and Lynne Hamer, "connecting young people to family and community members and helping them to develop self-identity are vital to civic well-being and to school success."

Through the Schoolhouse Door offers a collection of experiences from exemplary school programs and the analysis of an expert group of folklorists and educators who are dedicated not only to getting students out the door and into their communities to learn about the folk culture all around them but also to honoring the culture teachers and students bring to the classroom.


front cover of Valley Interfaith and School Reform
Valley Interfaith and School Reform
Organizing for Power in South Texas
By Dennis Shirley
University of Texas Press, 2002

Can public schools still educate America's children, particularly in poor and working class communities? Many advocates of school reform have called for dismantling public education in favor of market-based models of reform such as privatization and vouchers. By contrast, this pathfinding book explores how community organizing and activism in support of public schools in one of America's most economically disadvantaged regions, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, has engendered impressive academic results.

Dennis Shirley focuses the book around case studies of three schools that have benefited from the reform efforts of a community group called Valley Interfaith, which works to develop community leadership and boost academic achievement. He follows the remarkable efforts of teachers, parents, school administrators, clergy, and community activists to take charge of their schools and their communities and describes the effects of these efforts on students' school performance and testing results.

Uniting gritty realism based on extensive field observations with inspiring vignettes of educators and parents creating genuine improvement in their schools and communities, this book demonstrates that public schools can be vital "laboratories of democracy," in which students and their parents learn the arts of civic engagement and the skills necessary for participating in our rapidly changing world. It persuasively argues that the American tradition of neighborhood schools can still serve as a bedrock of community engagement and academic achievement.


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Why the Battle over Diverse Public Schools Still Matters
Karey Alison Harwood
Rutgers University Press, 2024
The Wake County Public School System was once described as a beacon of hope for American school districts. It was both academically successful and successfully integrated. It accomplished these goals through the hard work of teachers and administrators, and through a student assignment policy that made sure no school in the countywide district became a high poverty school. Although most students attended their closest school, the “diversity policy” modified where some students were assigned to make sure no school had more than 40% of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or more than 25% performing below grade level. When the school board election of 2009 swept into office a majority who favored “neighborhood schools,” the diversity policy that had governed student assignment for years was eliminated. Wake: Why the Battle Over Diverse Public Schools Still Matters tells the story of the aftermath of that election, including the fierce public debate that ensued during school board meetings and in the pages of the local newspaper, and the groundswell of community support that voted in a pro-diversity school board in 2011. What was at stake in those years was the fundamental direction of the largest school district in North Carolina and the 14th largest in the U.S. Would it maintain a commitment to diverse schools, and if so, how would it balance that commitment with various competing interests and demands? Through hundreds of published opinion articles and several in depth interviews with community leaders, Wake examines the substance of that debate and explores the community’s vision for public education. Wake also explores the importance of knowing the history of a place, including the history of school segregation. Wake County’s example still resonates, and the battle over diverse public schools still matters, because owning responsibility for the problem of segregated schools (or not) will shape the direction of America’s future.

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When Middle-Class Parents Choose Urban Schools
Class, Race, and the Challenge of Equity in Public Education
Linn Posey-Maddox
University of Chicago Press, 2014
In recent decades a growing number of middle-class parents have considered sending their children to—and often end up becoming active in—urban public schools. Their presence can bring long-needed material resources to such schools, but, as Linn Posey-Maddox shows in this study, it can also introduce new class and race tensions, and even exacerbate inequalities. Sensitively navigating the pros and cons of middle-class transformation, When Middle-Class Parents Choose Urban Schools asks whether it is possible for our urban public schools to have both financial security and equitable diversity.
Drawing on in-depth research at an urban elementary school, Posey-Maddox examines parents’ efforts to support the school through their outreach, marketing, and volunteerism. She shows that when middle-class parents engage in urban school communities, they can bring a host of positive benefits, including new educational opportunities and greater diversity. But their involvement can also unintentionally marginalize less-affluent parents and diminish low-income students’ access to the improving schools. In response, Posey-Maddox argues that school reform efforts, which usually equate improvement with rising test scores and increased enrollment, need to have more equity-focused policies in place to ensure that low-income families also benefit from—and participate in—school change. 

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Whose School Is It?
Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City
By Rhoda H. Halperin
University of Texas Press, 2006

Whose School Is It?: Women, Children, Memory, and Practice in the City is a success story with roadblocks, crashes, and detours. Rhoda Halperin uses feminist theorist and activist Gloria Anzaldúa's ideas about borderlands created by colliding cultures to deconstruct the creation and advancement of a public community charter school in a diverse, long-lived urban neighborhood on the Ohio River. Class, race, and gender mix with age, local knowledge, and place authenticity to create a page-turning story of grit, humor, and sheer stubbornness. The school has grown and flourished in the face of daunting market forces, class discrimination, and an increasingly unfavorable national climate for charter schools. Borderlands are tense spaces. The school is a microcosm of the global city.

Many theoretical strands converge in this book—feminist theory, ideas about globalization, class analysis, and accessible narrative writing—to present some new approaches in urban anthropology. The book is multi-voiced and nuanced in ways that provide authenticity and texture to the real circumstances of urban lives. At the same time, identities are threatened as community practices clash with rules and regulations imposed by outsiders.

Since it is based on fifteen years of ethnographic fieldwork in the community and the city, Whose School Is It? brings unique long-term perspectives on continuities and disjunctures in cities. Halperin's work as researcher and advocate also provides insider perspectives that are rare in the literature of urban anthropology.


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