Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) is a collaborative fund of national and local foundations committed to achieving equitable educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income students in communities of color. CPER is grounded in the belief that community engagement is a critical yet overlooked lever for school improvement, and that the organized involvement of parents and youth in affected communities is essential to achieving sustainable and effective school reform. CPER has so far raised $32 million from 77 national and local donors, providing grants and field building supports to 137 organizations in California, Chicago, Colorado, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Southeastern PA, as well as to allies in national coalitions and affiliated regions across the country. Through a leveraged national to local match, CPER infuses critically needed resources into equity-focused reform efforts across the country, bringing effective community-based efforts to scale and facilitating strategic coordination among groups commonly committed to educational justice. Click here for a listing of CPER donors since 2007.
CPER supports community-based groups, research and advocacy allies, and national coalitions working to build leadership to advance policy and practice reforms on the school, district, state, and national level. CPER’s multidimensional work involves both “insider” and “outsider” strategies, as groups engage in base building, direct advocacy, and effective partnerships with school districts and school leaders to advance change. By providing multi-year support to engage, amplify, and strengthen parent and student voice in a cross section of U.S. school districts, CPER addresses the political and cultural dimensions of school reform and challenges the policy, practice and power relations that have institutionalized inequitable opportunities and outcomes for low-income students in communities of color. Click here for a directory of CPER-supported organizations.
Reach and Issue Areas
CPER has provided support to 137 organizations since its founding. 50 community-based partners are currently supported by local donor tables in six regions across the country (California, Chicago, Colorado, Mississippi, New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania). CPER also provides core support and capacity building services to youth-led national coalitions, community groups in “affiliated” regions, and organizational members of related funding initiatives. CPER supports community leaders in identifying the issues that have traction in their respective communities. A partial list of CPER-supported campaigns include teaching quality, school financing, school climate and disciplinary policy, democratic school governance, access to rigorous instruction, social & emotional supports, extended & linked learning, early childhood education and access to higher education. Across all regions and policy campaigns, CPER aims to strengthen community engagement for school reform, helping to build a sustainable infrastructure for change that includes community actors, funders, researchers, policy advocates and other critical allies. Click here for CPER’s Summer 2013 Overview of the Public Education Landscape in regions receiving direct CPER support.
Beyond direct grantmaking, CPER sponsors activities to build the education organizing field’s knowledge base, critical allies, and material resources.
Through CPER’s national Capacity Building Initiative, CPER partners gain access to capacity and peer learning supports designed to deepen practice, strengthen knowledge, enhance effectiveness, and enable strategic coordination. Services are tailored to meet the specific needs of community groups or regions. Activities include topically-focused peer learning communities on core education reform issues; site-wide trainings on topics such as strategic communications, fundraising, and issue analysis; technical assistance and customized supports for individual organizations on leadership and skills development and organizational infrastructure; and peer-to-peer “rapid response” connections to seize real-time opportunities for advancing campaigns. CPER staff work closely with grantees to ascertain capacity needs, identify appropriate training opportunities and TA providers, and facilitate learning forums. Click here for CPER’s Pilot Year Report on its Capacity Building Initiative.
CPER’s robust funding collaborative includes national and local donors whose varied portfolios include education, community engagement, and youth leadership. CPER brings funders together to align and leverage foundation-specific reform agendas and to exchange ideas that will enhance philanthropic impact. Donor briefings aim to increase philanthropic support for education organizing and deepen awareness of the role parents and students can and must play in achieving equity-oriented school reform. Click here for a list of CPER’s donor education activities.
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. Click here to access the “Getting to Outcomes” publication by CPER and Research for Action.
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. Click here for a list of CPER’s Scholars Board members.
Each year, CPER brings together several hundred grantees and donors to learn, network, strategize, re-energize and refuel. Workshops, trainings, and plenaries facilitate dialogue between grassroots activists and prominent policymakers and education researchers, providing a place for diverse members of the CPER community to grapple with challenges and showcase best practices. The dynamic annual convening builds on and extends learning supports offered in local, sustained contexts throughout the year. Click here for CPER’s 2012 Convening Report.