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Community Engagement - Approaches

Renée, M. & McAlister, S. (2011, January). The strengths and challenges of community organizing as an education reform strategy: What the research says. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. (Executive summary). Available at NMEF_Summary.pdf

This executive summary discusses the strengths and challenges of community organizing, citing historical practices and present day dynamics to inform the knowledge base of education organizing for school reform. The authors present community organizing as a mechanism for education reform to address issues of power in economic and social systems. Additionally, the report identifies key strategies that distinguish community organizing for school reform from conventional reform strategies. Among the set of effective strategies, the authors highlight working at multiple levels, working through alliances and coalitions, using data and research, and balancing collaboration and pressure. The piece also discusses challenges facing community organizers to underscore the importance of building relationships, limits of organizational capacity, insufficient density of organizations working together, and the critical role of funders. Overall, research suggests that community organizing in the context of school reform may advance equity and build social capital for under-represented communities.

Fruchter, N. & Gray, R. (2006). Community engagement: Mobilizing constituents to demand and support educational improvement. Voices in Urban Education, 13, 5-9. Available at

This piece explores effective community engagement—which the authors define as the mobilization of a range of constituencies around a common mission, goal, or purpose—as a strategy for improving public education. The article describes the continuum of constituency groups they believe are critical to effective community engagement efforts in education, including elite sectors, political leaders, civic and cultural organizations, and grassroots groups. Moreover, the authors emphasize the need for an equitable distribution of power and resources among these entities in order to build an effective partnership. The piece concludes with examples of effective community engagement practices that demonstrate varying levels of success in supporting education reform.

Campbell, C. (2014, February 6). What does it mean to ‘engage’ the public?. [Web log]. Available at

This blog post outlines key findings from a meeting of 26 portfolio districts hosted by the Center for Reinventing Public Education on the theme of public engagement and strategy sustainability. The post urges district leaders to consider dynamics of race and class in decision-making—including the importance of having leaders who reflect the communities they serve—to propel effective community engagement. The author cites the failures that result from districts acting on an engagement definition that is restricted to conversation and does not also commit to action. The post closes with a recommendation for district leaders to root their communication of the decision-making process in honesty, warning against the danger of overpromising and under-delivering.