Philadelphia is at the forefront of a national trend towards privatization in education, making school reform in Philadelphia a topic of national and local consequence. The Philadelphia school district has created a new governance model, in which for-profits, non-profits, and universities receive contracts to manage schools. The shift to a public/private institutional structure, coupled with the urgency surrounding urban school reform, together shape civic and community engagement in decisions affecting public education. Our invesitgation contributes to research that has established the importance of ‘civic capactiy’–defined as broad-based engagement of civic and community groups in identifying and pursuing an agenda for school improvement–to urban school reform. In this brief, we focus specifically on neighborhood-based organizations and advocacy groups with limited resources. ‘Participation though contracts’ appears to have implications for the roles of civic actors in Philadelphia.