When Parents United: A Historical Case Study Examining the Changing Civic Landscape of American Urban Education Reform

  • Esa Syeed
  • Pedro Noguera New York University


In this article we explore recent history to uncover the role that public engagement has played in the effort to reform America's urban schools. In the place of narratives that focus on elite actors (foundations, unions, corporations, etc.), we focus on the role of local stakeholders. Specifically, we look to how the changing political context (policy agendas and governance structures) of urban school systems has shifted possibilities for communities to participate in determining the direction of reform efforts in urban school systems. Through interviews and archival research, we examine the case of a single parent-led advocacy organization, Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools. Established in 1980 and remaining active until the late 1990s, Parents United developed a broad-based vision of educational equity and had a significant impact on the local public school system during that time.  We show that in the current political and social context of education reform, communities may derive important lessons from Parents United while also devising new strategies for public engagement.

Author Biography

Pedro Noguera, New York University

Metropolitan Center for Urban Education
New York University