The March on Washington played a pivotal role in transforming hearts, minds and laws during the civil rights movement. Protesting racial inequalities, 250,000 Americans gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and helped create the necessary political pressure to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. While it is certainly true that people from all economic and ethnic groups joined the march, education leaders must not forget that it was heavily comprised of the movement’s key disadvantaged population: African Americans. Other movements, including women’s rights, rigid smoking regulations and strict drunk driving laws, also had substantial input from people that the issue harmed most. This is a critical trend because it captures the notion that social movements need intense participation from those within marginalized populations and those outside of it. If there is a movement to close the achievement gap and improve public education systems then past events should encourage education leaders to include academically disadvantaged families.
Organizations like the Harlem Children Zone and Promise Neighborhoods embrace the inclusion and empowerment of underperforming communities. In addition to providing a variety of social services, these initiatives teach parents from low achieving communities how to prepare their newborns for pre-school and continue to guide parents throughout their children’s k-12 careers. Both programs were also designed, in part, by Geoffrey Canada, a prominent education reformer who hails from struggling public schools in the Bronx, NY.
Although these organizations help incorporate disadvantaged families, other education sectors must continually improve their efforts. In particular, research suggests that school boards and districts are in a prime position to expand parental outreach. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Education shows that programs in Minnesota and West Virginia significantly improved parental involvement and student gains by merging innovative home activities with school practices. Inclusive and inventive initiatives like these cannot grow unless education leaders step to the plate and offer their support.
The bottom line is that the quantity and influence of education leaders from afflicted neighborhoods is far too low. Reformers are surely doomed to fight an uphill battle if they aren’t joined, even lead, by the communities they’re trying to help.