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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

Mark Warren
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Course Description

This course will focus on the role of community organizing in fostering school change. We will examine the large range of ways community groups and schools are promoting the active engagement of participants to improve education—whether that be parents, teachers, community residents, students, or the public at large. Within that context, we will examine efforts to foster collaborations among and between a wide array of stakeholders in education, including community organizations, school personnel, school system administration, unions, the business community, faith institutions, civil rights organizations, and youth. We will also examine the role of political organizing in addressing structural inequalities in education in America, and consider that ways that education organizing strengthens broader community building efforts.

A critical component of the course will be its connections to various institutions involved in education organizing in the greater Boston area. Students will be offered the opportunity, and required, to participate in some direct way with an organization/school/institution active in school change and community building. Forms of engagement might include volunteer support, collaborative research, community education, or some other activity that both creates a learning opportunity for students and results in a practical contribution to organizing efforts.

Class meets for 1½ hours twice per week.

The class may be taken for a letter grade or satisfactory/unsatisfactory.

Required Texts

Course Packet of Readings
Dennis Shirley, Community Organizing and Urban School Reform (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996)
Clarence Stone, Changing Urban Education (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998)


Course Requirements

1. Attend class and participate actively
This course will follow an active learning model in which discussion and participation by students is essential. Students must do the reading and come to class prepared to participate.

2. Case analysis
Students will choose one of the case studies to be discussed in class and write a case analysis (six pages). They will also form a group with several other students and prepare to lead the class discussion of this case. Guidelines will be distributed.

3. Case briefs
Students are required to write and submit in advance one-page briefs for the classes in which there are case study analyses, but for which they are not preparing the longer case analysis (that is, three times). Guidelines for these briefs will be distributed in advance. Briefs will not be graded separately.

4. Participation with Boston area organizing group
Students are required to participate in some collaborative effort with a group/school/organization involved in education organizing in Boston. A range of options will be offered to students and assistance will be provided to match groups with student interest and skills. Students might volunteer to help engage youth or parents, organize events, conduct a collaborative research project, or hold educational seminars for group participants. In most cases, students will volunteer for a group along with three or so other students in the class. It is expected that students will spend about two to three hours per week in this volunteer work.

Students are required to attend an open house, Wednesday, September 17th at 6–8pm, location to be announced. Representatives from Boston groups interested in hosting students will give short presentations and be available for individual conversations.

The class will be divided into three reflection groups, lead by the teaching fellow. Each group will meet three times during the course of the semester—normally after the writing of a reflection essay (see below). Students will share their experiences and learning with each other in these groups, and have the opportunity to receive support and advice.

Students will not be graded on the quality of their work with local groups per se. Rather, they will be graded for three associated requirements:

  1. Three short reflection essays (two pages each) that connect an important issue or set of issues discussed in the course with the student's experience with the organizing group. These essays will be assigned a provisional grade, to help students see how they are doing regarding constructing a written case study.
  2. A presentation to the class that involves a case study of the group. This presentation will be done as a group with other students involved with the same effort. Presentations will occur during classes in December.
  3. A 15-page written case study of the group done by each student individually. Students involved with the same group can collaborate in the research for the study, but must each write their own analysis, appropriately citing the insights of their collaborators. Grades are awarded for the learning that takes place, not for the success of the project. An excellent essay can be written about a project that is not particularly successful, although of course we'd like our efforts to produce results. Due January 16th.

Grading for the course will be apportioned accordingly:

20% – Three case briefs (two pages each) and class participation. Grading will be based on the quality of participation, not the amount of it. Criteria will be distributed at the start of class.

20% – One case analysis (six pages)

10% – Class presentation of case study of Boston organizing group

50% – Written case study (15 pages) of Boston organizing group

Note: The three reflection essays (two pages each) are required, but their grades do not count towards the final grade.

Schedule of Classes

Part I. What Is Organizing?

This part of the course will introduce students to the distinctive elements of American community organizing. We will examine the roots of contemporary organizing and discuss why an organizing approach might be necessary to transform urban schools. We will also begin to discuss some of the important tensions within organizing, e.g., the relationship between conflict and collaboration, winnable short-term goals and large structural change, race-based and multiracial strategies, and gendered notions of community and leadership.

9/9 – Introduction to the course

9/16 – Elements of a community organizing approach

Saul D. Alinsky, “The Purpose” and “A Word About Words,” from Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Random House, 1971), pp. 3–23 and 48–62.

Bernard Loomer, “Two Conceptions of Power,” Criterion, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 1976), pp. 11–29. Available at

Ed Chambers, Organizing for Family and Congregation (Franklin Square, NY: Industrial Areas Foundation, 1978).

Larry MacNeil, “The Soft Arts of Organizing,” Social Policy (Winter, 1995), pp. 17–22.


9/17 – Open house 6–8pm
Meet representatives of community groups, youth organizations, and schools to help decide on placements for the course.

9/18 – Why do we need organizing? A brief overview.

Pedro Noguera, “Confronting the Urban in Urban School Reform,” Urban Review, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1996), pp. 1–27.

Charles M. Payne and Mariame Kaba, “So Much Reform, So Little Change: Building-Level Obstacles to Urban School Reform,” Journal of Negro Education (forthcoming). Available at

Robert D. Putnam, “Bowling Alone, Revisited,” The Responsive Community (Spring, 1995), pp. 18–33.

Kavitha Mediratta and Norm Fruchter, From Governance to Accountability: Building Relationships That Make Schools Work (New York: Institute for Education and Social Policy, New York University, 2003).

John McKnight, “Services Are Bad for People,” Organizing (Spring/Summer, 1991).

9/23 – Roots of contemporary organizing

Saul Alinsky, “What Is a Radical?” chapter 1 of Reveille for Radicals (New York: Vintage Books, 1969).

Mark R. Warren, “A Theology of Organizing: From Alinsky to the Modern IAF,” chapter 2 of Dry Bones Rattling (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Taylor Branch, “The First Trombone,” excerpt from chapter 4 of Parting the Water: America in the King Years (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), pp. 120–142.

Nancy Naples, “Activist Mothering: Cross-Generational Continuity in the Community Work of Women From Low-Income Neighborhoods,” Gender and Society, Vol. 6, No. 3 (September, 1992), pp. 441–463.

9/25 – Critical perspectives on community organizing

Robert Fisher, “A Strategy of Moderation: IAF Organizing,” and chapter 7, “Conclusion: The Nature, Potential and Prospects of Neighborhood Organizing,” pp. 192–196 and pp. 210–233 in Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994).

Susan Stall and Randy Stoecker, “Community Organizing or Organizing Community? Gender and the Crafts of Empowerment,” Gender and Society, Vol. 12, No. 6 (December, 1998), pp. 729–756.

James Jenning, “The Politics of Black Empowerment in Urban America: Reflections on Race, Class and Community” in Dilemmas of Activism, edited by Joseph M. Kling and Prudence S. Posner.

Part II. Education Organizing Today: Approaches, Cases, Paradigms

This part of the course examines contemporary organizing for school change. Each topic will take two to three class sessions. For each of these topics we will introduce an analytic framework or paradigm for understanding organizing and then examine one or two cases using these tools. Students will be asked to analyze the cases from the point of view of various stakeholders (parents, teachers, principals, etc.) and suggest strategies for advancing the work being discussed based on their analyses.

9/30, 10/2 & 10/7 – Parent engagement

Questions to be considered: Why does parental participation matter to educational outcomes? How has parental participation changed over time and how can it be revitalized? How does the traditional notion of parental involvement compare to parental engagement in an organizing approach? The first case in this section is one where parent organizing took place outside of, and largely in conflict with, the school system, while the second case examines a collaborative model.

Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, pp. 21–41.

Susan Crawford and Peggy Levitt, “Social Change and Civic Engagement: The Case of the PTA,” pp. 249–296 in Civic Engagement in American Democracy, edited by Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press and New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 1999).

Joyce L. Epstein, “Parent Involvement: A Survey of Teacher Practices,” pp. 101–119 in School, Family, and Community Partnerships (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001).

Annette Lareau, “Social Class Differences in Family-School Relationships: The Importance of Cultural Capital,” Sociology of Education, Vol. 56 (April, 1987), pp. 73–85.

James S. Coleman, “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94, Supplement (1988), pp. S95–S120.

Pedro Noguera, “Transforming Urban Schools Through Investments in the Social Capital of Parents,” pp. 189–212 in Social Capital and Poor Communities, edited by Susan Saegert, J. Phillip Thompson, and Mark R. Warren (New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2001).

Eric Zachary and shola olatoya, Community Organizing for School Improvement in the South Bronx (New York: Institute for Education & Social Policy of NYU School of Education, 2001). Available at

Research for Action and Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, “Case Study: Logan Square Neighborhood Association,” part of the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Schools, The Indicators Project on Education Organizing (Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, 2002).

Case I: South Bronx Schools and New Settlement Apartments
Case II: Logan Square Neighborhood Association (Chicago)

10/9, 10/14 & 10/16 – Social capital: Creating a relational infrastructure for schooling

Questions to be considered: Why are strong relationships between school, family, and community necessary for successful schooling? How do service approaches to making these connections compare to organizing approaches? How can resistance be overcome to tap the motivations of teachers, principals, and parents to collaborate to transform the culture of schooling? The case here examines the nation's largest school reform collaborative in Texas and focuses on one of its local alliances between schools and faith communities in Austin.

Dennis Shirley, Community Organizing for Urban School Reform (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), chapters to be announced. (required text)

Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider, Trust in Schools (New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2002), pp. 3–34.

John Dewey, “The Democratic Conception in Education,” chapter 7 in Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (New York: MacMillan, 1938 [1916]).

Claire Smrekar, “The Kentucky Family Resource Centers: The Challenges of Remaking Family-School Interactions,” chapter 1 in Coordination Among Schools, Families, and Communities, edited by James G. Cibulka and William J. Kritek (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996).

Research for Action and Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, “Case Study: Austin Interfaith,” part of the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Schools, The Indicators Project on Education Organizing (Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, 2002).

“Texas IAF Vision for Public Schools: Communities of Learners” (Austin, TX: Texas Interfaith Education Fund, 1990).

Case: Texas Alliance Schools and Austin Interfaith

10/21 & 10/23 – Civic capacity and political advocacy

Questions to be considered: What kinds of citywide coalitions are necessary to advance system-wide change? What are the politics of forging alliances across different sectors: school systems, business, teachers unions, faith-based and community-based organizations, and city administrations. What is the relationship between school-by-school organizing and advocating for broader structural change? The cases here examine a civic alliance that has driven school reform in Kentucky and the effort to create alliances to challenge New York State's inequitable distribution of school funding.

Clarence Stone, Changing Urban Education (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), chapters 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 12. (required text)

Harvard Family Research Project, The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence: Building Capacity for Public Engagement in Education Reform (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2000). 

Materials on New York Alliance for Quality Education (to be distributed)

Case I: Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence (Kentucky)
Case II: New York Alliance for Quality Education

10/28, 10/30 & 11/4 – Race, unions and cross-sector collaboration

Questions to be considered: How does the history of racial conflict between predominantly white teachers unions and communities of color affect the prospects for organizing collaboratives? What contemporary forces structure conflict and cooperation today when communities of color organize to empower themselves and confront racism in education? One case examines the efforts of black and Latino parents in New York to confront racial discrimination in schools “from the outside,” while the second case looks at a collaborative model in Oakland.

Kwame Ture (Stokeley Carmichael) and Charles V. Hamilton, “Black Power: Its Need and Substance,” and “The Search for New Forms,” chapters 2 and 8 of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).

Dan Perlstein, “If Not Now, When? Teacher Unions in New York City in Historical Perspective,” pp. 86–92 of Transforming Teacher Unions, edited by Bob Peterson and Michael Charney (Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1999).

D. Crystal Byndloss, “Revisiting Paradigms in Black Education: Community Control and African-Centered Schools,” Education and Urban Society, Vol. 34, No. 1 (November, 2001), pp. 84–100.

Charles Taylor Kerchner, Julia E. Koppich, and Joseph G. Weeres, United Mind Workers (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), pp. 3–12.

Research for Action and Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, “Case Study: New York ACORN,” part of the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Schools, The Indicators Project on Education Organizing (Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, 2002).

New York ACORN, Secret Apartheid: A Report on Racial Discrimination Against Black and Latino Parents and Children in the New York City Public Schools (1996). Available at

New York ACORN, Secret Apartheid II: Race, Regents, and Resources (1997). Available at

Research for Action and Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, “Case Study: Oakland Community Organizations,” part of the Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Schools, The Indicators Project on Education Organizing (Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, 2002).

Case I: New York ACORN and the Secret Apartheid Campaign
Case II: Oakland Community Organization and Small Schools

11/11 Veteran's Day – holiday

11/13 & 11/18 – Youth organizing and community service

Questions to be considered: What is the role of youth organizing in school transformation? How can youth be engaged to participate in the civic life of their communities? What is the relationship between community service and youth organizing as strategies for civic engagement, school change, and youth development?

Shawn Ginwright, Youth Organizing: Expanding Possibilities for Youth Development (New York: Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing, 2003). Available at

Selected articles on the Philadelphia Student Union

11/20 & 11/25 – Local democracy and institutional reform

Questions to be considered: What is the role of local community control of schools in school improvement? What is the relationship between institutional reform and “on the ground” organizing? More broadly, what is the relationship between expert driven reform “at the top” and the local knowledge and values of actors “on the ground”?

John Dewey, “Search for the Great Community,” pp. 143–184 in The Public and Its Problems (Athens: Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 1991 [1927]).

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), introduction and chapter 9.

Archon Fung, “Accountable Autonomy: Toward Empowered Deliberation in Chicago Schools and Policing,” Politics and Society, Vol. 29 (March, 2001), pp. 73–104.

Charles Payne, “The Comer Intervention Model and School Reform in Chicago: Implications of Two Models of Change,” Urban Education, Vol. 26, No. 1 (April, 1991), pp. 8–24.

Designs for Change (selected materials to be distributed)

11/27 – Thanksgiving – holiday

Part III. From the Margins to the Center?

The first part of this section of the course will attempt to synthesize and apply the analytic approaches discussed so far through student presentations of case studies of the Boston organizing groups in which they have participated during the semester. In the second part of this section we will consider the prospects of education organizing moving from the margins to the center of school reform practice.

12/2 – Quality and equality in Boston schools I: Desegregation, community organizing, and the prospects for school improvement
Student presentations of case studies of Boston education organizing

12/4 – Quality and equality in Boston schools II: Desegregation, community organizing, and the prospects for school improvement
Student presentations of case studies of Boston education organizing

12/9 – Antiracism, social justice, and local organizing

Beverly Daniel Tatum, “Talking About Race, Learning About Racism: The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom,” Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 1–24.

Beverly Daniel Tatum, “Teaching White Students About Racism: The Search for White Allies and the Restoration of Hope,” Teachers College Record, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Summer, 1994), pp. 462–476.

Bob Peterson, “Survival & Justice: Rethinking Teacher Union Strategy,” pp. 11–19 in Transforming Teacher Unions, edited by Bob Peterson and Michael Charney (Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1999).

Mark R. Warren, “Conclusion: Restoring Faith in Politics,” from Dry Bones Rattling (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).

12/11 – Putting the public (back?) into public education

Peter W. Cookson and Kristina Berger, “Part Two: The Social and Political Geology of Charter Schools,” pp. 113–136 in Expect Miracles: Charter Schools and the Politics of Hope and Despair (Cambridge: Westview, 2002).

Robert Bellah et al., “Introduction: We Live Through Institutions,” in The Good Society (New York: Knopf, 1991).

Harry Boyte, “A Different Kind of Politics,” John Dewey Lecture, University of Michigan, October 13, 2002.

12/16 – Where do we go from here?

Kavitha Mediratta and Norm Fruchter, Mapping the Field of Organizing for School Improvement (New York: Institute for Education and Social Policy, New York University, 2001). Available at

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Published by Harvard Family Research Project