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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