ERIC Identifier: ED368080
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Peterson-del Mar, David
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Community Coalitions To Restructure Schools. ERIC Digest,
This ERIC Digest brings together two large and timely topics: coalition
building and school reform. These two subjects are not always paired. Parents,
businesses, and others can work with schools in ways that do not restructure
schools. And schools can restructure themselves without enlisting the help of
But school restructuring commonly involves using the energy and ideas of
people outside the schools. Indeed, many restructuring efforts work to break
down the walls that separate teacher from parent, classroom from community.
Other reformers turn to coalitions out of necessity, because district resources
seem too meager to meet the growing challenges that public education faces.
WHAT ARE THESE COALITIONS?
Coalitions consist of a broad
range of organizations or individuals who share a commitment to a particular
issue. Coalition members commit themselves to sharing vital resources on an
ongoing basis. Restructuring, too, requires broad and deep change. Conley (1993)
defines it as a "fundamental" shift that changes schools' "assumptions,
practices, and relationships" to the benefit of "essentially all students."
Coalition building goes beyond mere cooperation. Heaviside and Farris (1989)
found that the most common sort of involvement by schools with the larger
community involved guest speakers or the provision of demonstrations or
equipment. This sort of cooperation between school and community can be very
positive, but it does not constitute a coalition.
Coalitions, by definition, entail some sort of structural change. Businesses,
colleges, and other community groups or leaders may join with schools to form an
organization to increase high school graduates' employability. Or school
personnel may form a coalition with representatives from local social-service
agencies to better address such problems as poverty, family violence, and
juvenile delinquency. The resulting group, or coalition, is both part of the
school and part of the larger community.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF COALITIONS?
There are several
advantages to forming coalitions to restructure schools. In the first place,
such efforts have the potential to bring a vast amount of energy to bear on
problems too large for a single school or even district to overcome. Teachers
frustrated by a parent's drug addiction or homelessness can work with the
community professionals who specialize in these problems. Administrators
struggling to create a curriculum that will better prepare students for the
local work force can form a broad range of partnerships with business to both
energize the classroom and to extend its boundaries into the broader community.
Yet coalition building should be approached cautiously. Coalitions save
districts' resources only in the long run; in the short term they consume vast
quantities of time. District officials who are not prepared for a substantial
initial outlay may be better off with the status quo.
Coalitions to restructure schools can create friction, particularly within
districts. Administrators may not be prepared to accept a decline in formal
authority. Educators may resent working with business people; they may feel
"that their central purpose should not be to prepare workers," as Conley puts
Coalitions for restructuring have great potential power. But leaders should
not simply pursue change for the sake of change, and they should seek out
collaborators who recognize and respect educators' knowledge and schools'
HOW ARE COALITIONS CREATED?
Liontos (1991) offers three
general steps for school leaders trying to build relationships with the broader
community: reaching out and initiating contact; getting involved in community
activities; and recognizing "that school administrators are, in fact, community
leaders." Some school-community coalitions are started by business people
wanting to improve student performance or by social workers wishing to upgrade
service delivery. But educators begin the majority of school-community
Davies (1991) notes that the schools most successful at creating coalitions
"will likely be the ones where the felt need is more broadly owned and where
substantial numbers of teachers, staff, parents, and other community members can
agree on the nature of the problems and needs to be addressed." Such schools are
ripe for coalition building.
Leaders in other schools must work to create a sense of felt need for reform.
The Education Commission of the States (1991) suggests several steps: convening
a group of constituents to discuss desired changes; focusing on what students
should know and how schools can help them to learn it; encouraging constituents
to observe students in class; and developing a statement that identifies this
group's vision for the district or school. Collaborative restructuring means
opening up the schools to community members' concerns, conversing with them
about necessary changes, and working with them to implement agreed-upon reforms.
HOW CAN MEMBERS BE ATTRACTED TO THE COALITION?
coalition members are attracted to school restructuring by a mixture of altruism
and self-interest. An executive who works closely with a bank operated in
Sprague High School in Salem, Oregon, cites "community involvement" as the main
reason for her participation, but she hopes that the project will create some
good bankers, that "it will give us better employees down the road" (Peterson-del Mar).
Coalition builders should be prepared to cite concrete advantages for helping
to restructure schools. Thomas, Hart, and Smith (1989) cite several: better
educated employees; the opportunity to improve the general quality of family and
community life; use of school resources; and the satisfaction of helping
students. Participation in school restructuring places substantial demands on
members' time and energy, and people will be understandably reluctant to join a
project whose benefits are not spelled out.
Establishing greater rapport and contact with the larger school community is
often a first step in recruiting coalition members. Thomas and his coauthors
offer tips on how to increase these contacts: inviting parents to school for
special events; initiating an active volunteer program; opening the school up to
community activities; sending students out into the community; and maintaining
an active public relations program. Such steps will increase the community's
sense of ownership in the school and create a pool of people likely to
participate in substantive reform.
HOW ARE COALITIONS ADMINISTERED AND MAINTAINED?
There is no
single, established way to administer a coalition. Some have a relatively
informal or loose structure. Many, if not most, have bylaws or tax-exempt
status. Some are essentially part of the school, even though they include
community members. In other cases, such as coalitions with social-service
agencies, school or district personnel may be in the minority. The details of a
particular coalition's structure and composition depend on its unique
requirements, its purpose, and its members' desires.
A coalition's general traits are more easily identified than its particular
structure. Peterson-del Mar identifies three key themes for success: early
participation, local solutions for local problems, and effective communication.
Early participation by school and nonschool representatives creates a genuine
sense of shared power and responsibility in coalitions. True coalition building
requires school leaders to listen as well as to lead, to share authority as well
as to wield it. It requires that participants genuinely believe that their
corporate wisdom and strength exceeds the wisdom and strength of a solitary
leader. Coalition building also demands sensitivity to local conditions and
needs. Since each community is unique, each will necessarily need to create its
own set of priorities and processes.
Effective communication is indispensable in any sort of restructuring. It is
particularly crucial when coalitions are included in the reform process.
Coalitions for school restructuring bring fundamental changes in lines of
authority and responsibility that must be fully discussed and understood before
they are implemented (Liontos). Such efforts also, by definition, bring together
many types of people from inside and outside the school (Edelstein, Schaeffer,
and Kenney 1989). There is great strength in diversity only when these
dissimilar people dialogue with each other.
Coalitions can be extremely powerful and effective tools in school
restructuring, but only if pursued energetically, skillfully, and openly.
Conley, David T. Roadmap To Restructuring:
Policies, Practices, and the Emerging Visions of Schooling. Eugene, Oregon: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Educational Management, 1993. 430 pages. ED 359 593.
Davies, Don. "Testing a Strategy for Reform: The League of Schools Reaching
Out." Paper prepared for a Symposium at the American Educational Research
Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 1991. 28 pages. ED 331 178.
Edelstein, Frederick S.; Esther F. Schaeffer; and Richard J. Kenney. A
Blueprint for Business on Restructuring Education. Washington, D.C.: The
National Alliance of Business, 1989, 38 pages.
Education Commission of the States. Exploring Policy Options to Restructure
Education. Denver, Colorado: Author, 1991. 86 pages. ED 332 323.
Heaviside, Sheila, and Elizabeth Farris. Education Partnerships in Public and
Elementary Schools. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics,
1984. 53 pages. ED 304 789
Liontos, Lynn Balster. Social Services and Schools: Building Collaboration
That Works. Eugene: Oregon School Study Council, University of Oregon, November
1991. OSSC Bulletin Series. 42 pages. ED 343 264.
Peterson-del Mar, David. Building Coalitions to Restructure Schools. Eugene:
Oregon School Study Council, University of Oregon, November 1993. OSSC Bulletin
Series. 48 pages.
Stone, Calvin. "School-Community Collaboration: Comparing Three Initiatives."
Madison, Wisconsin: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, June
1993. 15 pages. ED 358 549.
Thomas, John; Thomas Hart; and Stuart C. Smith. "Building Coalitions." In
School Leadership: Handbook for Excellence, second ed., edited by Stuart C.
Smith and Philip K. Piele. pp. 272-90. Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management, 1989. ED 309 516.