Public Education Network (PEN)

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In 2012, Public Education Network (PEN) closed its doors after 21 years. PEN was a network of local education funds (LEFs) -- community based organizations in high poverty school districts across the United States -- that continue to work with their school districts and communities to improve public education for the nation's most disadvantaged children.

At the national level, PEN raised the importance of public engagement as an essential component of education reform. It brought the voice of LEFs and the communities they represent into the national education debate. Finally, PEN gave voice to the essential nature of the connection between quality public education and a healthy and thriving democracy.

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Crafting a Civic Stage for Public Education: Understanding the Work and Accomplishments of Local Education Funds

November 7, 2005

The Education Fund in Miami and other local education funds (LEFs) across the country have toiled for more than two decades -- often behind the scenes -- to strengthen public schooling and raise the academic achievement of students in lowincome communities. With support and leadership from Public Education Network (PEN), local education funds have educated citizens in almost 90 communities across the United States about important public education issues and mobilized community coalitions to bring much-needed resources and give input to public schooling policy discussions. LEFs have also worked directly with districts, schools, students, and parents to bring robust innovation to public education and institutionalize high-quality programs and practices that strengthen children's learning. Like Miami's Education Fund, LEFs throughout the country have made education a civic enterprise in their communities. In this report, we argue that local education funds are uniquely positioned to create a supportive civic environment for improving public education. Historically underappreciated, a civic environment that supports school reform has more recently been recognized by researchers and public education advocates as a necessity. This report identi?es key elements of such an environment and shows how LEFs contribute to its existence. We also argue that local education funds are highly adaptive organizations that customize their change strategies to particular communities. While the individual nature of each LEF may obscure the overarching values, purposes, and goals that these organizations share -- thus masking their collective identity -- customization is at the heart of why LEFs are such effective change agents. They apply deep knowledge of local contexts and strong commitment to core values in order to make strategic decisions about how to position themselves and their work in the local reform landscape. After more than 20 years of work in public education, LEF leaders and PEN continue to be forward-looking in their insistence on research that examines the role and accomplishments of LEFs. In August 2003, at PEN's request, Research for Action (RFA) began to lay a foundation for understanding and assessing how LEFs carry out their missions and how they demonstrate success. In this report we offer stories of LEF work and suggest a conceptual model for understanding the decisions LEFs make as they shape their organizational identity and an approach to their work.

Locating Local Education Funds: A Conceptual Framework for Describing LEFs' Contribution to Public Education

March 24, 2004

With support and leadership from the Public Education Network (PEN), local education funds (LEFs) have worked for two decades to 1) educate and mobilize their communities so that citizen voices are influential in education policy discussions; and 2) support effective partnerships between school district insiders and outsiders to improve the quality of children's education. However, as Useem's study of local education funds points out, it has been difficult to identify the many roles that LEFs play in their communities, the work that they undertake, the obstacles that they encounter, and the contributions that they make. Useem also suggests why the work of LEFs defies simple description. As brokers, LEFs work behind the scenes and in partnership with others, which contributes to their invisibility as catalysts and supporters of educational improvement. LEFs also are highly adaptive organizations that typically customize their change strategies to particular communities. Such attention to local context results in tremendous variation in the organization, work, and accomplishments of LEFs. At the same time, the highly individual nature of each LEF often obscures the overarching values, purposes, and goals that these organizations share, thus obscuring a collective identity.As they mark 20 years of work in public education, LEF and PEN leaders are prescient in their insistence on further research into the role and accomplishments of local education funds in shaping the landscape of public schooling. In August 2003, at the request of PEN, Research for Action (RFA) began work on developing a conceptual framework for: 1) understanding the role and work of LEFs and the many factors that influence what they do and how they do it; and 2) assessing their contributions to public education.This framework will be used to guide future empirical research on LEFs and to develop tools that LEFs themselves can use in a process of self-assessment. Continued research and assessment will provide public education stakeholders with credible evidence and a deeper understanding about how LEFs carry out their missions and demonstrate successes. At the same time, it will provide firm ground for LEF and PEN leaders to chart the next generation of work. This report was prepared for Public Education Network by Research for Action.

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