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Zoned for Change: A Historical Case Study of the Belmont Zone of Choice


by Ramón Antonio Martínez & Karen Hunter Quartz — 2012

Background/Context: Over the past two decades, scholars have increasingly called for educational leaders to collaborate with community-based organizations in their efforts to bring about school reform. Observing that school reform efforts often fail to include those most impacted by failing policies and practices, these scholars have turned their attention to the role of community organizations that advocate on behalf of parents and students in underserved communities. These scholars have explored the potential of community organizing strategies for transforming public schools, documenting the crucial role of strategic alliances between community-based organizations and school district officials in bringing about greater equity and improved student outcomes.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study is to explore how educational leaders and community-based organizations collaborated to bring about unprecedented education reform in the nation’s second largest school district.

Research Design: This historical case study is based on in-depth interviews with 11 high-profile school district, union, community, and other educational leaders across seven key partner institutions and organizations that were involved in the development of the Belmont Zone of Choice from 2001 to 2009.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study reveals the kinds of obstacles facing reformers in large urban school districts, and it illustrates how concerned educators, community-based organizations, and educational reformers can form strategic alliances to fight for meaningful change in underserved communities. Rather than provide a simplistic or idealistic depiction of collaboration, however, this case study illustrates the tensions and struggles that emerged as diverse—and sometimes antagonistic—social actors collaborated to bring about education reform at the local level. It also illustrates that strategic alliances are not necessarily sufficient to ensure successful reform implementation within contexts of political and economic asymmetry. As such, the history of the Belmont Zone of Choice highlights both the promise and challenge of community organizing for school reform.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 10, 2012, p. 1-40
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16676, Date Accessed: 7/31/2014 9:30:07 AM

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About the Author
  • Ramón Martínez
    University of Texas at Austin
    E-mail Author
    RAMÓN ANTONIO MARTÍNEZ is an assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. His research explores the social and cultural dimensions of language and literacy education, and the politics of public school reform. His recent publications include “Spanglish as literacy tool: Toward an understanding of the potential role of Spanish-English code-switching in the development of academic literacy” (Research in the Teaching of English, 2010) and “Research on diverse students in culturally and linguistically complex language arts classrooms” (with A. F. Ball and A. Skerrett, in the Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts, 3rd ed., Lawrence Erlbaum/Taylor Francis, 2010).
  • Karen Quartz
    UCLA
    E-mail Author
    KAREN HUNTER QUARTZ is the director of research for Center X, the home of UCLA’s professional credentialing and advancement programs for K–12 educators, and for the UCLA Community School, a public K–12 small school that opened in 2009 within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her research focuses on the creation of democratic small schools, as well as the struggle to recruit and retain good urban teachers. Her recent publications include Making a difference: Career pathways in urban education (with B. Olsen, L. Anderson, and K. Barraza-Lyons, Paradigm, 2010) and “Educational field stations: A model for increasing diversity and access in higher education” (with H. Mehan, G. Kaufman, C. Lytle, and R. S. Weinstein, in Higher education: The past and future of Proposition 209, Harvard Education Press, 2010).
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