Examining the Aftermath of Education Reform

By Michele Molnar — September 28, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When parents and activists in community groups mobilize to transform education, what happens next?

That question is the subject of an in-depth study published in the most recent issue of Educational Policy, which looked at the aftermath of two major changes in California: the New Small Autonomous Schools Policy, in Oakland, and the Children’s Amendment, in San Francisco.

The September article, “From Agitating in the Streets to Implementing in the Suites: Understanding Education Policy Reforms Initiated by Local Advocates,” examines this conundrum: Once a community advocacy group hands off its successful reform to a government agency, the group naturally wants to oversee implementation, but cannot officially do so from its position outside government.

The study found that groups took an aggressive “watchdog,” a more collaborative “critical friend,” or a more distant “witness” approach in the oversight of how their initiative was implemented by officials and institutions, depending upon how much influence they could have to effect change at that point.

This research began as part of a larger study Anne Newman conducted with a team through the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities when she was a Stanford University graduate student. “We were trying to understand how organizations like the two in the article are able to shape policy,” she said. The groups—the Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and the Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth (referred to as Coleman)—effected two dramatic changes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We wanted to look at how do you navigate the political challenges of seeing something implemented that might deviate from your intentions when, as an advocate, you may have to move resources and time to other projects,” she said.

Two Reforms, Two Approaches

In 2000, the New Autonomous Schools Act was passed in Oakland, which led to the creation of 25 new small schools in the first four years after the policy was implemented. OCO, a coalition of community organizers, worked in partnership with the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BayCES) to make the change happen. The authors say this change has “become a national model for community-driven school reform.”

Ironically, this initiative began with a small problem—dirty bathrooms in schools—that grew into a focus on school overcrowding and moved up the system until the solution of building smaller schools became a policy.

In San Francisco, Coleman leveraged the knowledge of its professional staff in understanding the city budget and community needs. The end result was passage of “The Children’s Amendment,” which means 3 cents of every $100 assessed property tax value is spent on child and youth programs. The ballot initiative, first passed in 1991, has been reauthorized through June 2015.

Combining what she learned from these two case studies, Newman and colleagues Sarah Deschenes and Kathryn Hopkins wrote about the “streets-to-suites” issue.

“Both organizations have been really savvy about being able to mobilize. If you’re going out to have a rally, for instance, they make sure a lot of people will be there,” she said.

Newman describes the Coleman group as more of an “expert-run, policy-wonkish” type of organization that now has added a grassroots, empowerment model. OCO is grassroots-driven.

“Coleman’s been very good at thinking about how they can institutionalize their reform, recognizing their attention as advocates to one particular issue has to be fleeting,” Newman said. “Historically they’ve been really good about thinking, ‘What can we do, policy-wise, to entrench this reform in local government and find a permanent home for it.”

Monitoring Implemented Reforms

For oversight, Newman says these two organizations have taken different roles at different times. Coleman has, when needed, adopted the watchdog stance, sometimes jumping in to criticize.

“OCO has taken more of an insider approach, serving as a critical friend, to make sure things look as close as possible to what was intended. They recognize that they have to move on, that they have limited resources, and their members are interested in something else now,” she said.

For both groups, Newman said: “They look at the number of kids being served, and this is the best we can do. It’s an acknowledgement of what it means to be an advocate; it’s a tension inherent in their role. You have to move on to something else,” said Newman, who now conducts research at the University of California Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California.

Learn more about OCO from a case study here. Find out more about Coleman in a case study here.

An abstract of the “streets-to-suites” article is available here.

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

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP