Thursday, March 1, 2012

IAF Part 2

We've looked at WHO the IAF is so now we'll take a look at their strategy.

See if this technique sounds familiar:
One common method of pressuring officials to address local needs is through public accountability sessions, where they listen to community concerns and are asked to sign agreements before a large assembly of their constituents. Altogether, this iterative process leads to greater community capacity—the ability to solve problems collectively to help the community identify needs and secure the resources needed to address them.

Education organizing:

Education organizing emerged as a distinct subset of community organizing in the late 1980s, as organizing groups increasingly identified inadequate schools as a key issue facing their neighborhoods. Today, there are about 200 groups focusing on issues such as school safety, overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating buildings with few modern amenities, poor student performance, and low teacher expectations and quality compared to schools in wealthier neighborhoods.
While individual organizations and their strategies may differ, they have enough similarities to posit a theory of change...through education organizing. Mobilizing around issues unique to education entails some of the same elements as community organizing that we discussed earlier: building social capital, developing leadership and local power, and demanding public accountability. In addition, it introduces the idea of building school-community connections: bringing parents, schools, churches, elected officials and others together to act upon common education concerns. Through this technique, parents and schools simultaneously become resources for one another, sharing decision-making, and taking joint ownership of the success of the school and its students.
Research shows that standardized tests do not accurately measure the achievements of poor, minority children for a variety of reasons. Social class, race, and differences in child rearing play substantial roles in achievement, more so for reading than in math. Middle-class parents are more likely to read to their children and engage them in conversation than working class and poor parents. As a result, middle-class, white children come to school better prepared in basic skills than poorer, oftentimes minority, students.
Health differences also affect learning. Children who cannot afford eyeglasses will be hard-pressed to read classroom blackboards or their books. Similarly, lack of medical and dental care cause poor children to miss school. Lead poisoning and asthma, endemic to many inner-city neighborhoods, also play important roles in learning problems and result in lower test scores. Finally, poor nutrition and lower birth weights among poor children can stunt their learning potential.
Despite numerous obstacles, organizers have been relentless in their efforts to change schools and communities for the better.
Improving the quality of the school climate is another important goal for education organizing efforts. Districts can address overcrowding by building new facilities, reducing class and school sizes, and lowering teacher-student ratios. Schools can create safer learning environments by eliminating environmental hazards and repairing school buildings, implementing fair disciplinary practices for students, and increasing crime and traffic controls around schools.
It is generally easiest for people concerned about schools to organize about improving school climate. As a highly visible issue, most parents and teachers can readily agree on the pressing needs of physically crumbling, overcrowded, and understaffed facilities. This often provides a convenient starting point for school change without having to immediately challenge the culture of the schools—a much more difficult task. The key to sustained education organizing, however, is viewing such improvements as a first step. Bringing a community’s newfound power to bear on more winnable issues, such as getting a new playground, can be a step toward increased public accountability in more complicated arenas, such as increasing the number of higher-level courses and the number of minority students in them.
Education organizing groups pay increasing attention to curriculum and instruction, trying to transform curricula, improve teachers’ qualifications and their expectations for students, and offer better professional development opportunities to school staff. Organized schools in both Oakland and New York have incorporated social justice into the curriculum, helping students identify, research, and take direct action on issues important to their communities. Groups run up against tougher barriers when they focus their accountability efforts on challenging curriculum and instruction methods. Curriculum discussions often pit parents against the personal and professional interests of entrenched educators and administrators, raising the political stakes considerably. It takes time to give low-income parents, often poorly educated themselves, the confidence to understand and challenge standard education models and practices... parents can gain both confidence and knowledge as they participate as teachers in after-school programs and religious classes, and as academic jargon is translated into their everyday language.
Organizing groups also fight for improvements in school governance and accountability by gaining more community representation in school decision-making, cultivating the sympathies of school staff and administrators, and educating the educators about their students through home visitations. For example, in New York City, MOM was successful in forcing a district superintendent into retirement, helping pick his replacement, and getting MOM representatives elected to the district school board.
Finally, most groups work for greater equity, by winning more funds for resource-starved schools, promoting incentives to attract and retaining qualified teachers, and fighting for higher-level course offerings, among other things. OCO helped push through a $300 bond issue to fund the New Autonomous Small Schools Initiative. It also ended the practice of multi-tracking in seven of eight schools, where teachers and students operated on multiple school calendars and rotated classrooms due to overcrowded conditions. They also campaigned helped win salary increases for teachers. The Washington Interfaith Network fought for and won a $15 million trust from the Washington, D.C. city council to support after-school programs. Other groups have identified the problem of low number of advanced courses offered, along with the low number of minority and poor students in them; they have agitated to see this situation change. In just two years of education organizing, La Familia in Chicago saw more Latinos moving on to higher-level math and science courses in the local high school.
Equity is perhaps the most controversial goal for groups to pursue because it levels specific claims of injustice against school structures and administrators. Education organizing has produced more resources and fairer treatment for low-income and minority students. It is still easier to win funds to address visible infrastructure issues, such as needed repairs and new school buildings as opposed to changing attitudes and funneling resources toward low-income students without knowing if the outcome will measurably raise student achievement.