Inter-Level Educational Collaboration for Civic Capacity Building: The Role of Local Education Funds
By Wendy D. Puriefoy
Public Education Network
What is the Public Education Network?
The Public Education Network (PEN) is a national association of 69 member local education funds (LEFs). It collaborates with its members to build the capacity of local communities to create positive, lasting change in public schools. PEN assists LEFs in serving as effective agents of positive change by promoting a framework for systemic reform, managing an information exchange of research, expertise, and best practices relevant to LEFs, offering grant opportunities and technical assistance, and creating alliances with national and state organizations, corporations, media groups, nonprofit partners, and the philanthropic sector.
The mission of PEN is to create systems of public education that result in high achievement for every child in America. PEN works to ensure the availability of high-quality public education to every child, particularly the disadvantaged. It believes that improving public school systems is the responsibility of entire communities. The 69 network members in 28 states and the District of Columbia serve approximately 6.5 million children--almost 15% of American public school students. Fifty-three percent of children in LEF districts are eligible for free or reduced student lunch, compared to 33% of children in the nation as a whole. LEFs serve 8,600 schools in over 313 school districts.
What Are Local Education Funds (LEFs)?
LEFs work in partnership with school districts and communities to increase student achievement and build public support for public schools. They are independent nonprofits that operate as intermediaries between citizens and school bureaucracies. Motivated by the belief that improving educational environments for children is too big a task for school districts to undertake alone, community leaders created LEFs to serve as public-private agents of change.
LEFs are structured to be fast moving, flexible, responsive, and non-bureaucratic. These characteristics enable them to adapt to the changing context of schools and student bodies. LEFs can take on issues that pose greater organizational or political challenges for large and inflexible school bureaucracies. Because of their structure and position outside the system, LEFs write grants, secure donations of services or funds, mount programs, and produce evaluations of their work faster than other traditional institutions.
LEFs promote local partnerships, provide reliable and unbiased information to the public, partner with national reform initiatives and federal grants, implement state policy initiatives, award grants for school improvement efforts, innovate and experiment with school reform, and provide direct services to students and families. The major areas of activity include teacher professional development, parent/family involvement, community engagement, literacy/reading development, the school to college/career transition, technology and education, and content standards and assessment. Over the past 17 years, LEFs have become increasingly sophisticated organizations. Average staff size has increased over the past five years, from seven full-time staff members to eleven. LEF work has gradually expanded from programmatic efforts to efforts targeted at policy change and public engagement.
In 2000, 95% of all LEFs reported conducting community forums on a variety of issues and 85% reported conducting direct communications with policymakers (a dramatic increase from 71% in 1999).1
LEFs have therefore clearly assumed a dual role in which they are both the initiators and supporters of school improvement and advocates for public education itself.
Civic Engagement and Higher Education: Overview
LEFs convene diverse stakeholders, bringing together those with conflicting, sometimes adversarial positions (e.g., teachers union representatives and district managers) to find common areas of interest and concern.
Since their inception, LEFs have routinely involved the academic sector in their work. Initially, such involvement centered on the design of professional development activities or of teacher mini-grant programs (e.g., as proposal readers). Today, collaborations between LEFs and universities are extending to LEF governance, heightened LEF accountability efforts (e.g., evaluation expertise), and civic engagement (e.g., university public policy and/or education faculty efforts to assess community concerns). In fact, academic sector representation has witnessed the fastest rate of increase on LEF boards: in 2000, roughly 11% of LEF board members (or 135 of the 1,230 total) were drawn from universities.2 We believe that the expansion of this collaboration reflects as much the expanded scope of LEF work as it does shifting priorities and interests within the academic sector itself.
LEFs as Intermediaries Between Universities, Schools and Communities
LEFs and universities collaborate most significantly in the following ways:
Below are several examples from LEFs that exemplify one or more of the above collaborative activities.
- disseminating university-conducted research findings on quality education for all students to communities, thereby creating a more informed public;
- brokering university expertise to schools, thereby helping to reduce the research-to-practice gap;
- providing a mechanism for university faculty to address the concerns of community members (e.g., in surveying public opinion regarding teacher quality and the universities' own efforts to improve teacher quality);
- brokering university/community involvement programs such as inter-level student mentoring;
- helping universities to achieve equity goals by providing them access to early student and/or teacher recruitment in high poverty and minority communities; and
- bringing cross-sectoral resources (organizations and funding) to bear on university initiatives (e.g., interdisciplinary social services and education programs).
Reduction of Research-to-Practice Gap
Fund for Educational Excellence, Baltimore. The Fund for Educational Excellence works with Johns Hopkins University to administer, study and refine the School/Family/Community/Partnership (SFCP) program, which has been in operation since 1986. SFCP engages families and the broader community in their children's education. Inaugurated in 8 schools 11 years ago, it is now in all 182 schools in Baltimore City. This program has been adopted in 9 other states and 52 other districts nationally. Research shows that the SFCP program improves student performance in reading, writing and math, as indicated on the Maryland State Performance Assessment Plan, especially when the family and community partnerships are connected directly to classroom instruction.3
Cleveland Education Fund. The Cleveland Collaborative for Mathematics Education (C2ME) is devoted to instructional research and development, encompassing subject-area content, instructional methodology and teacher leadership. All aspects involve leadership from diverse faculties at major area universities. The major event is the annual mathematics competition at John Carroll University. This collaborative has spawned TEEM (Teacher Enhancement in Elementary Mathematics), a program designed to strengthen elementary mathematics education in the Cleveland Public Schools (CPS). A four-year initiative made possible by a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, TEEM provides leadership and intensive mathematics content training for every teacher in all 80 CPS elementary schools. The impact: 92% of participating schools showed improvements in students' scores on the mathematics proficiency test.
Joint Community Outreach Efforts for Educational Improvement
Wake Educational Partnership, Raleigh, North Carolina. The Wake Educational Partnership was established as a citizens committee to review findings of the National Commission on the Future of America's Teachers and to develop an action plan linking the schools and the community in order to assess, recruit and develop a strong teacher workforce.
Philadelphia Education Fund. The Excellence in Teaching Partnership brings together Temple University (the region's largest provider of new teachers), the School District's Office of Human Resources and its Department of Leadership & Learning, three targeted middle schools, and the Philadelphia Education Fund. The partnership seeks to address the need for qualified middle grades teachers. The partnership attacks the problem from three angles: (1) improved pre-service education, including the creation of an undergraduate Middle School Endorsement Program at Temple University; (2) improved recruitment and hiring systems for qualified applicants; and (3) improved retention efforts, including targeted induction programs for new middle grades teachers.
Golden Apple Fellowship Program, San Francisco. The Golden Apple Fellowship Program, sponsored jointly by the Ed Fund, the San Francisco Unified School District, and the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley), recognizes excellent teachers in San Francisco schools and provides them with an opportunity for professional renewal through a semester of coursework at UC Berkeley. Under the guidance of UC Berkeley faculty advisors, the fellowship allows teachers to sharpen their subject-matter expertise, broaden their knowledge base, and reflect on new ways to teach more effectively.
Funding and Support to University Initiatives
Mon Valley Education Consortium: Yale University School of the 21st Century. The Mon Valley Education Consortium has helped to conceptualize and execute the annual conference of the Yale University School of the 21st Century for three years. The conference is a school-based childcare and family-support program for young children (from birth to age 12) and their families. Specifically, the Mon Valley Education Consortium presents sessions on child development, fund-raising, program evaluation, and staff development. Additionally, they offer participants an opportunity to network and share ideas with practitioners who have successfully implemented programs throughout the country.
Cross-Disciplinary and Sectoral Collaboration
Providence, Rhode Island. Through the Kids Health Career Alliance, the Providence LEF has successfully tapped the resources within the community, bringing together business and community leaders, university students and professors, and health professionals. This alliance introduces at-risk middle school students to career options in health care. Additionally, the program emphasizes the importance of math and science in preparing for well-paying careers in the health field. Working with students on issues of self-esteem, peer pressure, procrastination, and drug awareness, the Alliance encourages and prepares students for college.
Inter-Level Mentoring Programs and University Student Recruitment/Retention
Philadelphia Education Fund. As the largest and broadest-based college preparatory assistance program in the city of Philadelphia, the College Access Program (CAP) and the Philadelphia Scholars Fund provide direct services to over 2,700 low-income youths from some of the most financially disadvantaged sections of the city. Eighty percent of these students will be the first in their families to attend college. The program operates in 9 middle and 11 high schools, where coordinators provide comprehensive college readiness services, including college and career awareness workshops, individual advising, motivational speakers, financial aid, and scholarship assistance. CAP helps schools develop their own capacity to provide comprehensive college assistance and services and a "college-going culture" that includes a college preparation course sequence. CAP operates three community-based centers that serve both school-aged and adult populations who seek to begin or return to college. With one-on-one advising, reference materials, financial aid assistance, and test-taking classes, the CAP centers provide an invaluable service to thousands of community members each year.
Boston Plan for Excellence: Action Center for Educational Services and Scholarships (ACCESS). When the Boston Plan for Excellence was first established, several local corporations created a separate endowment for "last-dollar" scholarships for graduates of Boston's public schools. Since 1985, the Boston Plan has awarded almost $4 million in scholarships.
The Montclair After-School Tutoring Project, Montclair, NJ. The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) established the Montclair After-School Tutoring Project to provide academic support to at-risk students and to narrow the achievement gap. Local residents and students from Montclair State University serve as tutors for these students.
Fund for Educational Excellence, Baltimore. The Fund for Educational Excellence created Career Academies to improve the preparation of students for careers, to increase the retention of students in high school, and to increase their enrollment and success in college. Over 95% of the academy's graduates enter college.
1 Public Education Network Annual Member Survey, Reflecting into the Future: 1996-2000
(Washington, D.C.: 2000).
3 Joyce L. Epstein, School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and
Improving Schools (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001).