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Community Organizing Creates a New Form of Accountability

This article discusses the contributions of community organizing to current conceptions of accountability for the success of public school reform. The authors first explain two predominant models that form the basis for almost all current accountability systems. These are: 1) bureaucratic accountability, a top-down approach which relies on standardized testing as the measure of students’ and schools’ success; and professional accountability, an approach through which school staff develop a collective sense of responsibility for improved student outcomes. The authors offer a third model, public accountability, an idea which developed out of the authors’ research on community organizing groups working for school reform. This research has shown that these groups bring about improvement in schools by creating a public dialogue which involves a wide range of stakeholders (parents, teachers, administrators, students, community members, district and elected officials, and others) and using this public forum to win commitments for collectively-defined school reforms. The authors conclude that public accountability, although not widely taken into consideration, is essential for substantial, long-term improvement of urban public schools.