In Theory, Yes: How Educators of Educators Discuss the Roles and Responsibilities of Communities in Education

October 8, 2014

Home Reports & Resources K-12 Education In Theory, Yes: How Educators of Educators Discuss the Roles and Responsibilities of Communities in Education

Some researchers believe that collaboration between schools and community stakeholders, including families, educators, community organizations and businesses, is the key to improving public education. However, broad and inclusive community-school partnerships are rare. Instead, we frequently hear about friction between communities and their schools.

We, along with the Kettering Foundation, wanted to know: How can communities work together on the challenge of educating children? What roles and responsibilities do different stakeholders play in education, and who can bring those stakeholders to the table? What should educators expect from citizens and communities, and what should citizens and communities expect from their schools?

For this project, we spoke specifically to faculty members involved in teacher training about these and other concerns. As instructors of future teachers, principals and superintendents, educators of educators have important and unique insights into what the forthcoming crop of education leaders see as barriers to community-school collaboration.

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Other Issues on Their Minds

Environment, family, and community play key roles in children’s learning, according to nearly all of the 74 educators of educators we spoke with. Yet when discussing the greatest challenges facing K-12 education today, most interviewees talked about inadequate or unfair school funding, increasingly diverse and underprepared students, and what many described as an assault on public education from reformers, politicians and businesses.

Few Models to Learn From

Few participants had ever seen schools and communities work together on a common vision for education or to find solutions to local education problems. In many cases, participants longed for more robust community engagement and support, emphasizing schools cannot do it alone. But their ideas and views on how exactly residents and institutions might share responsibilities with schools were mostly visionary and aspirational rather than practical or based on experience.

It’s the School’s Responsibility

Participants’ views on how to stimulate school-community collaboration tended to put the schools at the center of the process. They said that schools should open themselves up to the community and serve community needs, and schools should do better at leveraging community resources. Much less frequently did participants express a vision of schools as partners with other community actors, residents or institutions. Several had implemented a variety of community-oriented approaches to teacher training at their universities.

Accountability Has Eroded Relationships

Participants felt that key features of the accountability movement standardized testing, school choice and school closures, in particular, have undermined relationships between communities and public schools. However, those who did support these reforms felt strongly that they are long overdue and ultimately help communities.

This small-scale, exploratory project provides a picture of the complex mix of beliefs about communities and education that educators of educators hold. We completed two strands of research with the 74 participants.

Focus groups with faculty members at schools of education. In the fall of 2013, Public Agenda conducted six focus groups with a total of 53 faculty members at schools of education in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles. Each group was comprised of tenured and untenured faculty, some of whom had experience as K-12 teachers or principals. We administered a short survey to the participants after each group.

One-on-one interviews with deans, department chairs, and others involved in teacher training. We conducted twenty of these interviews. Eleven of the interviewees were deans or department chairs at schools of education ranked highly by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Three interviewees were from alternative teacher or principal preparation programs. One leads a program at a foundation focused on training teachers and administrators. Five were faculty in schools of education who we chose to interview because they conduct research on communities’ roles in education.

As with other qualitative research findings, the results of these focus groups and interviews are not necessarily generalizable to other educators of educators.