Building civic capacity: A strategy for improving public education in communities with high concentrations of minority students

Claudia La'Vern Edwards, Fordham University


The scope of this research explores meaningful ways the public in a Black-led community can galvanize to address the educational needs of children attending schools within its district. It draws upon the principals of Paulo Freire and his Theory of the Oppressed to examine the political human dynamics which shape the education debate in a community where the minority operates in the capacity of the new majority. Through methods of qualitative research, this study examines the public and its relationship with its local public school district. It draws from Clarence Stone's Theory for Building Civic Capacity to explore the readiness on the part of citizens to build a coalition of support for public education. The research question is: Under what conditions would a diverse citizenry build a citywide coalition in support of higher-achieving schools within the Mount Vernon public school district—an urban school district located in the wealthy New York City suburb. In spite of improvements in its elementary schools, the city has a reputation for having one of the lowest performing high schools in the county. The study reveals a paralyzed public that acknowledges a broken process for decision-making in education, and unwillingness on the part of the public to participate in a politically-charged education environment. In spite of the paralysis, the study reveals 64% of respondents ranked public schools as very important or important; and 92% expressed a readiness to mobilize in support of public education. As a result of conducting 78 in-depth interviews, five focus groups, and the analysis of historical data, ten major findings enumerate public perception on the aspirations and challenges the community faces to reclaim ownership of its public schools. The study offers a prescription for the conditions under which residents would be willing to mobilize in support of public education.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Educational administration|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Edwards, Claudia La'Vern, "Building civic capacity: A strategy for improving public education in communities with high concentrations of minority students" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3360664.