Academic journal article School Community Journal

Race and Class Challenges in Community Collaboration for Educational Change

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Race and Class Challenges in Community Collaboration for Educational Change

Article excerpt


This article reports the challenges of race and social class in an action research project to facilitate educational change through community collaboration with African American parents, community organizations, and public schools. This project was undertaken in Charlotte, North Carolina to enhance the participation of African American parents in their children's math and science course selection and placement in middle and high school. Focusing on the communities of three high schools and their feeder middle schools, this article reports important lessons and outlines strategic implications for future work in the intersection among African American communities, public schools and education, and universities.

Key Words: African American parents, race, class, community collaboration, parent education, the change process, equity, involvement, partnerships


From 2002 through 2005, a university-community partnership called the Math/Science Equity Program (MSEP) worked to increase African American parental involvement in high school math and science course selections in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Based at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), MSEP's goal was to reduce the race gaps in higher-level math and science course enrollments, and by doing so, contribute to reducing the race gap in academic achievement and attainment. MSEP was designed as a series of community-based parent enrichment workshops that built upon parents' existing knowledge. It developed their additional knowledge, skills, strategies, and social networks and created capacities for future collaborations among parents. Our multi-ethnic team of researcher-activists collaborated with several community organizations including the public schools, libraries, parks and recreation department, several churches, and a number of non-profit organizations in the development and implementation of our program.

This article focuses on the inexorable challenges inherent in such university-community collaborations, particularly those that, like MSEP, are action research projects aimed at educational reform. The article describes the lessons learned about the organizational, political, and interpersonal challenges that are inherent in efforts such as MSEP. Specifically, by describing and analyzing racial and, to a lesser degree, social class identity issues and the politics we found at the heart of these collaborations, we hope to offer meaningful lessons and insights to others who undertake collaborative relationships among public schools, universities, and communities.

Why Focus on the Collaboration Process?

Research-driven collaborations and partnerships among universities, communities, and schools are necessary to advance knowledge and educational opportunities to all, but they are loaded with many unforeseen issues (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007; Anyon & Fernandez, 2007; Harkavy, 2006). Interpersonal and political issues related to power dynamics, trust, and identity processes are just a few of the potential challenges such collaborations face (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 2006). Contextual issues invariably make this so, which in our case include historical and contemporary educational inequalities related to race, social class, and the specifics of the political economy in Charlotte, North Carolina where our work occurred (Caine, 2007; Smith, 2004). Consequently, despite MSEP's considerable successes, we faced - and this article highlights - barriers, hurdles, and contradictions in building partnerships with organizations and citizens across the Charlotte community.

The challenges we describe in this article are process issues often absent from the research literature on university-community collaborations for parental involvement in education. Highlighting these challenges may lead to cynicism about this kind of work (Brodsky et al., 2004; Miller, 2004). However, we believe we can offer necessary lessons and key insights from examining our experiences with the analytic and theoretical tools we bring to this endeavor. …

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