In large cities like Philadelphia, school reforms efforts often lack the momentum and sustainability necessary to bring about lasting benefits for students. One of the most critical factors in ensuring that reform has the resources and support needed to succeed is the development of civic capacity – the kind of district, civic, and community collaboration that promotes, supports, and sustains reform. RFA’s experience with civic capacity and civic engagement has included both independent research and close work with community organizations, in Philadelphia and nationwide.
This study, commissioned by the Accountability Review Council of the School District of Philadelphia, focuses on the early months of Superintendent Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools Initiative, which is designed to turn around chronically low-performing schools. Thirteen schools are included in this initiative during the 2010-2011 school year, split between two strategies—external (charter) management, and internal (district) management. RFA’s research focuses on the role that community members play in the reform effort for each school; as well as changes in school climate, and staffing and school leadership.
RFA evaluated a grant that the Donors' Education Collaborative (DEC) in New York City awarded to a set of advocacy and organizing groups. The grant supported the development of a coalition focused on influencing the debate over New York City school governance. RFA examined how these groups worked collaboratively to develop strategies that shaped the terms and outcomes of the debate. Jeffrey Henig of Teachers College, Columbia University joined RFA in this effort.
RFA is leading "Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform," a comprehensive, multi-year study of Philadelphia's complex and radical school reform effort. RFA researchers worked with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, Montclair State University, Swarthmore College, and the Consortium on Chicago School Research to examine the impact of state takeover, the efficacy of a diverse provider model, the success of district-level leadership in managing a complex set of reforms, the engagement of civic and community groups with district policy and school improvement, and the key factors influencing student outcomes under various school conditions and school management models. "Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform" included a multi-faceted, vigorous public awareness component that engages leaders and citizens in the process of educational change, and informed and guided the national debate on school reform. RFA continues to disseminate information broadly through public speaking and the RFA website.
RFA worked with PEN to continue their research on the role of Local Education Funds (LEFs) in shifting the education landscape in their communities. It provided public education stakeholders with a deeper understanding about how and with what successes LEFs carry out their missions. It also provided some useful tools and critical perspectives for LEF and PEN leaders to chart the next generation of work.
The Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform and RFA developed the Indicators Framework, which is being used to document the impact of community organizing for school reform. RFA has used the Indicators Framework in case studies of five community-organizing groups nationwide to portray these groups\' achievements in moving forward the process of school improvement and strengthening school/community connections.