Detroit has a plethora of community-based grassroots organizations focused on a broad range of topics related to education. Many organizations choose not to focus specifically on one issue, and instead have a wide base that empowers members to take action on issues most relevant to them. All the grassroots organizations listed on this website, however, have an explicit link to organizing around issues of school choice and how parents navigate this complex system in Detroit. From its social media presence and listed collaborations with other organizations, the organization 482 Forward seems to have a great presence and impact on educational issues in Detroit, especially surrounding demands for accountability and equitable access for charter schools. Many organizations, including the Chadsey Condon Community Organization, Congress of Communities, and Southwest Solutions, work specifically in one neighborhood of the city in order to increase accountability and make sure that their paths are being determined from the ground up. The Detroit Parent Network was formed by parents, for parents, and works to help parents navigate the complex system, and to find their voices to fight for what their children deserve.
Additionally, there are organizations like Detroit Voice for School Choice and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies that are explicitly pro-choice, as opposed to the other groups, who mostly feel that charters need more oversight and have gotten out of control in Detroit. With these organizations, it is important to be skeptical of their grassroots nature because of the amount of money from lobbyists and pro-choice politicians in Detroit.
Nationwide, grassroots organizations like The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools are working to increase accountability in charter schools in order to rediscover public education as an equalizer in American society. Through partnering with organizations in specific cities, this organization works to give voice to its members through its broad social media platform.
With the exception of the two pro-charter organizations listed above, the rest of these organizations are wary of the expansion of charter schools without proper regulation or regard for the impact on existing neighborhood schools, so thus are working to get communities involved to increase accountability. Most of these organizations focus on training community members as leaders so that they can advocate for themselves and their children and take action to ensure equitable schooling for all. They lead initiatives to improve community schools, force charter schools to be accountable, and expand the network of parents trying to understand the system so they can do the best for their children. Many of these organizations have inexpensive yearly membership fees, so that they don’t have to rely on big donors who may corrupt the grassroots intentions of the organization. Additionally, all of these organizations focus heavily on their social media presences as a way to raise awareness and build a platform for community members’ voices through retweeting and sharing ideas.
As is evident from the broad range of topics covered by these organization, the challenge of charter school accountability and parental involvement intersects with many other issues facing education in Detroit and nationwide. School closing rates are inherently tied to new charter schools creating more seats than there are students to fill, forcing budget reduction and inevitable closures. Transportation issues and neighborhood safety limit distances that students can travel to school, reducing the accessibility of charter schools to all students, thus preventing equitable access to school choice. Challenges to getting parents involved in the charter process stem from issues of parental involvement in all other aspects of a child’s schooling, including their home life.
482 Forward has had notable success with charter accountability through partnership with Chadsey Condon Community Organization, Congress of Communities, and Southwest Solutions. They helped advocate for community members who were worried about their neighborhood being flooded with more charter schools than they needed, which would lead to school closures and disruption. These community members decided to agree to a new charter school, but only if they were able to have direct involvement choosing the principal and serving on the community advisory board in order to hold the school accountable. The groups are now working to replicate this success in other schools, in order to give community members voice.
Another success and recognizable impact of grassroots organizing came from Detroit Parent Network, who partnered with Detroit Public Schools to create Parent Resource Centers across the city. These centers help parents understand the educational system and become better advocates for their children, whether or not they choose to send their children to charter schools.
Collectively, organizing through these groups has had a major impact on those involved, because so many of these groups focus on member participation and fostering leadership. Whether or not they succeed in reform efforts, they have accomplished their goal by giving parents and other community members the tools to fight for themselves and continuing organizing.
Detroit is overrun by philanthrocapitalists and lobbyists with large sums of money advocating for the advancement of charter schools. As a result, politicians failed to enact a cap on the number of charter schools or create a system of accountability for for-profit schools. It is difficult for grassroots organizations with limited budgets to combat this level of funding and political presence, although they have the advantage of being closer to the communities.
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