Meeting District Needs

Institute: Federal Policy Based on Competition Misses ‘Authentic Community Engagement’

By Michele Molnar — May 15, 2013 2 min read

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform, at Brown University, on Wednesday released a commentary on urban education critiquing the “top down” federal policy that forces schools and school districts to compete against one another, rather than finding collaborative solutions from a “bottom up” approach.

The institute’s paper argues that the current model based on competition has been ineffective in addressing inequities in education.

Instead, “democratically engaging parents and residents in low-income communities of color can build the power and public will necessary to improve struggling schools and hold public institutions accountable for better-quality services,” the report states.

“The current federal education transformation policy impacting schools across the country was developed and implemented with little input from community stakeholders,” write Richard Gray, director of the institute’s Community Organizing and Engagement, and Sara McAlister, senior research associate. “This top-down approach impeded the development of a sense of ownership and sustained support from key stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, business leaders, and other community members for the transformation process.”

In “How Federal Policy Can Encourage Authentic Community Engagement,” the authors favor the “Sustainable School Transformation” model created by the Communities for Excellent Public Schools, a group dedicated to the preservation and betterment of public schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The institute identifies the core elements of this model as:


  • A strong focus on school culture, curriculum, and staffing;
  • Using education reform models that are research-based and have a demonstrated record of success in the field; and,
  • Collaboration with families, communities, and local stakeholders to foster shared ownership and accountability.

The authors also posit that the U.S. Department of Education should move forward with a new framework for family engagement, based on recommendations in a draft report the department released in December 2012. Prepared by Karen L. Mapp, a family engagement expert, lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and director of its education policy and management program, the “new framework would provide an excellent basis for recasting family and community engagement as a core priority in federal school turnaround policies,” the institute’s commentary says.

Read the institute’s full commentary here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.