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.