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Reframing Accountability for Urban Schools: Efforts from the Ground Up to Improve Public Education

This paper, presented at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) discusses the contributions of community organizing to current conceptions of accountability for the improvement of public schools. According to the authors, the two predominant models, bureaucratic accountability and professional accountability, do not take into account the complex social and political contexts in which public schools function. The authors found, in case-study research on five community organizing groups working for school reform, that community organizing develops public accountability. Public accountability connects schools and their communities, broadens the range of participants who take responsibility for school improvement, and uses a public process to maintain pressure for effective action. The authors observed four shared strategies used by the groups in this process: 1) public conversations – open forums for deliberation among a range of stakeholders, leading to problem solving and commitments to action; 2) monitoring programs and policies – gathering and analysis of data to evaluate the effectiveness of improvement efforts; 3) participating in the public arena – building political will through get-out-the-vote campaigns and meetings with elected representatives; and 4) joint ownership and relational culture – developing ‘public’ relationships that lead to collective action. The authors conclude that public accountability, although not widely considered, is essential for improving urban public schools.