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.