Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) is a is a national funder collaborative that supports grassroots community-driven efforts working to guarantee educational excellence, equity and opportunity. CPER is a project of Public Interest Projects (PIP), a 501(c)(3) public charity.
Launched in 2007, CPER has raised and invested $34M from 76 national and local member donors, supporting 140 grassroots groups in six sites (California, Chicago, Colorado, Mississippi, New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania) and in national coalitions. In each locale, CPER supports a network of grassroots, community-based organizations who work in alliance with local funders and advocacy, research and litigation partners to advance equity and excellence-driven reforms.
Through direct grants, capacity building, convening, and research and evaluation, CPER helps to build sustainable local leadership that is capable of challenging the policy, practice and power relations that have institutionalized grossly inequitable opportunities and outcomes for students of color. Grantee partners advance campaigns addressing teaching quality, school financing, school climate, disciplinary policy, democratic school governance, social supports, extended learning time, charter accountability and equitable access to higher education.
Initially envisioned as a three-year initiative, CPER will sunset at the close of 2014 after eight powerful years, having substantially exceeded its anticipated lifespan and fundraising goals.
Roles and Strategies
CPER pursues an array of strategies in seeking to strengthen the education organizing field and to build a movement for educational justice. In carrying out these strategies, we play a variety of roles:
Investor: CPER provides long-term, flexible direct grants, capacity and leadership supports to groups who pursue multiple issue-focused campaigns identified and driven by engaged communities.
Broker: CPER incentivizes, aligns, and leverages the funding of local and national donors through matching funds and pooling resources.
Connector: CPER enhances relationship building, trust, issue alignment, and the sharing of best practices through convenings, learning communities, site exchanges, and coordinated work across groups within supported sites.
Learner: CPER supports qualitative research and evaluation of the Fund’s activities and campaigns pursued; the development of movement building evaluation tools; and policy research to inform grassroots campaigns.
Influencer: CPER builds alignment of key stakeholders through donor briefings, work with teacher unions, and engagement of education scholars.
The above funder roles are identified in “Many Hands, More Impact: Philanthropy’s Role in Supporting Movements,” Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, “Scaling What Works” Initiative. CPER’s specific strategies and activities are described in more detail below.
CPER allocates over 80% of its resources to direct grants. Nearly all CPER grantees have received sustained support over multiple years. Funding is flexible and responsive to grantees’ identified priotires for campiagns that have salience and traction in their schools, districts and state.
CPER provides partners with a range of tailored capacity, TA, and peer learning supports, all driven by grantees’ organizational and campaign needs. In 2013 alone, CPER provided $650K in supplemental capacity supports across the network, building strength in strategic communications, fundraising, issue analysis, leadership development and organizational infrastructure. CPER’s complementary “rapid response” supports allow groups to seize real-time opportunities for advancing campaigns. Staff work closely with grantees to ascertain needs, identify training opportunities and providers, and facilitate peer learning exchange.
CPER regularly convenes groups across regions and issue areas to share best practice, devise joint campaigns, and build sustainable partnerships. Through issue-focused Learning Communities, grantees acquire research knowledge and strategy development skills to strengthen pursued policy campaigns. Through cross site visits, grantees see successful school models and programs for adoption and replication. Through annual national conferences, hundreds of grassroots and advocacy groups, education scholars, and leading funders gather together for shared vision and strategy-making.
CPER provides research, evaluation, and TA to help supported groups track change in individuals, communities, and education policy and practice. CPER’s 2013 “Getting to Outcomes” Guide provides funders and grassroots groups with a theory of change for how education organizing works, and a set of indicators, measures and data sources through which to gauge success. CPER’s “Building a Movement for Educational Justice” documentary showcases stories of success.
Getting to Outcomes
As parents, youth, and allied community members collaboratively campaign for equity-focused education reform, they develop individual and community leadership and power — capacities critical to building a civic infrastructure and a genuinely participatory democracy. This work is difficult and slow-going; it requires smarts, skills, and stamina. How can we know that we are making a difference? What combination of strategies and competencies enable the results we seek? And how do we best capture outcomes in the multiple realms touched upon by community organizing campaigns — change in individuals, communities, and education policy and practice? Produced in partnership with Research for Action, “Getting to Outcomes, A User’s Guide” provides funders and grassroots groups with a theory of change for how education organizing works, and a set of possible indicators, measures and data sources through which to gauge success.
To help grantees apply the Getting to Outcomes conceptual framework to their own work, thus strengthening their ability to track and communicate their accomplishments to funders and other stakeholders, CPER provided evaluation-focused capacity building trainings, led by Guide authors Eva Gold and Elaine Simon. Click on the video to listen to the training, or click here to watch on Vimeo.
Click here for an analysis of education organizing groups’ evaluation-focused capacity needs, and a discussion of what funders and organizing groups can do: Building Evaluation Capacity in the Education Organizing Field.
CPER: Building a Movement for Educational Justice
CPER’s “Building a Movement for Educational Justice” is a CPER media product that can be used to further the understanding of the role that parents, youth, and funders collaboratively play in advancing educational equity and excellence. Watch snippets from the Resource Bank, a series of interviews with parents, youth, funders, scholars, and elected officials who collectively tackle three important questions:
- What impact does education organizing have on communities and their members?
- How does education organizing contribute to making positive change in schools?
- Why is investing in community-led education reform important?
How Organizing Impacts Our Schools
The Power of Investing in Communities
CPER’s robust funding collaborative includes national and local donors whose varied portfolios include education, community engagement, and youth leadership. CPER routinely brings funders together to align and leverage foundation-specific reform agendas and resources in order to exchange ideas that will enhance philanthropic impact. Donor briefings aim to deepen awareness of the role parents and students can and must play in achieving equity-oriented school reform.
CPER’s work is endorsed by leading academics who recognize community engagement as a key lever for successful school reform. Their research illuminates critical issues in educational equity, the importance of school-community connections to foster student success, and the transformative power of youth leadership. CPER Scholars Board members include Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University; Lisa Delpit, Southern University; Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Harvard University; Charles Payne, University of Chicago; Pedro Noguera, New York University; and Diane Ravitch, New York University, among others.
Tectonic shifts in education policy and education philanthropy have taken place over CPER’s eight year history. CPER grantees have adapted and developed new strategies in this changing world. Work powered by CPER serves as the foundation for new initiatives and collaborations. CPER’s noteworthy outcomes include:
- Achieving major policy change on the school, district, and state level in areas such as school funding, disciplinary policy, wrap around supports, extended learning time, and public accountability.
- Enhancing parent and youth leadership and power – capacities that are critical to realizing a truly participatory democracy.
- Strengthening collaboration between organizers, advocacy, and research partners through granting a vibrant, coordinated ecology of groups working toward shared goals.
- Forging new strategic alliances with essential actors like teacher unions and education scholars.
- Aligning and leveraging material resources between local and national funders across regions and issue areas.
- Enhancing the stature of organizing as a critical strategy for engaging students and families in improving schools and ensuring that each and every child has access to a high-quality, fully-resourced public education.