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In Fits and Starts: Learning to Create a Neighborhood Educational Opportunity Zone


by Martin Scanlan & Peter Miller ó 2013

Background/Context: Disparities in educational opportunity and academic achievement are closely connected to social class characteristics that lie beyond the schoolhouse doors (Rothstein, 2004). Comprehensive approaches to urban school reform are ecological, seeing schools nested in broader communities. The research presented here examines one such approach in a neighborhood educational opportunity zone: a geographically defined area where a traditionally marginalized children and families are clustered and resources are intensely focused to respond to their concomitant needs (Ascher, 1988).

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study contributes to a richer understanding of these zones by examining the genesis of one. Guided by sociocultural learning theory, our central question is: How do communities of practice influence the learning among the adults in a neighborhood educational opportunity zone?

Research Design: This qualitative case study examined a neighborhood educational opportunity zone in an urban area of the Midwestern United States. Our theoretical framework focused on communities of practice: groups who share a common purpose and learn from one another about how to pursue this purpose. We examined the three constituent dimensions of communities of practice: a domain, a shared practice relating to this domain, and a community engaged in this practice (Wenger, 1998).

Data Collection and Analysis: Data were generated from archival documents (brochures, organizational publications), interviews, and field notes from site visits. Data were analyzed by applying the three components of communities of practice: domain, community, and practice. From the interviews, we mapped relational networks to establish parameters of the community. We coded the array of data for indications of a commonly defined domain and shared practices within this domain. Our analysis was an iterative process unpacking whether and how the central participants of the neighborhood educational opportunity zone learned to collectively pursue this common domain.

Findings/Results: As this neighborhood educational opportunity zone formed, a cohesive community emerged whose members largely agree on a common set of concerns, but have a less cohesive understanding of shared practices with which to address these concerns.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The learning among adults within a neighborhood educational opportunity zone is a messy, convoluted, inconsistent process. These zones, by definition, are crafting not only new communities of practice, but new constellations among these. Scholars and practitioners alike will develop richer appreciation of these zones by attending to the complex learning processes occurring within and across these constellations.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 5, 2013, p. 1-44
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16948, Date Accessed: 10/31/2014 5:03:49 AM

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About the Author
  • Martin Scanlan
    Marquette University
    E-mail Author
    DR. MARTIN SCANLAN is an assistant professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Scanlanís teaching and scholarship focuses on educational leadership and organizational learning, particularly with regard to promoting educational opportunities for traditionally marginalized students. Recent publications include an analysis of how school leaders effectively serve culturally and linguistically diverse students (Scanlan & Lopez, 2012) and a study of two socially just school principals (Scanlan, 2012).

    Scanlan, M., & Lopez, F. (2012). °Vamos! How school leaders promote equity and excellence for bilingual students. Educational Administration Quarterly, 1-43.

    Scanlan, M. (2012). Inadvertent exemplars: Life history portraits of two socially just principals. Journal of School Leadership, 22(1).

  • Peter Miller
    University of Wisconsin - Madison
    E-mail Author
    DR. PETER MILLER is an assistant professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research and teaching focuses on community-based leadership and integrated reform, particularly amid contexts of poverty and homelessness. Recent work includes an examination of homeless familiesí education networks (Miller, 2011a) and a critical analysis of the research on student homelessness (Miller, 2011b).

    Miller, P. (2011a). Homeless Familiesí Education Networks: An Examination of Access and Mobilization. Educational Administration Quarterly.

    Miller, P. (2011b). A Critical Analysis of the Research on Student Homelessness. Review of Educational Research, 81(3), 308-337.

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