Public Agenda

Joint Ventures

An Experiment in Community/Professional Co-framing in K-12 Education

What happens when local school leaders sit down to talk with teachers, parents, and other members of the community about the ends and means of local education? Can people bringing different perspectives and experiences to the issue agree on top goals for their communities? Can they settle on needed changes and decide what signifies genuine progress?

To find out, we brought together parents, teachers, school administrators, businesspeople, community organization representatives and nonparent taxpayers in four cities across the U.S. These groups talked about improving education and learning in their community. We call this process "co-framing." The ultimate objective of co-framing is for districts and communities to work together to set goals, identify solutions and assess progress in education.

In many respects, the results of this project are enormously encouraging. In others, they suggest barriers that will require additional examination and raise questions for future experimentation and research.

This memo recaps our observations and conclusions from this work in four sections:

Section 1: Reviewing Stakeholder Starting Points

We wanted to be sure we started with an up-to-date understanding of the attitudes and concerns different groups of people bring to the table on education today. We therefore scanned existing opinion research among key stakeholders and analyzed themes that emerged in interviews and focus groups conducted for this study. Our scan covers a range of issues, including the mission of education, standards and testing, evaluation policies, school choice and charter schools, and funding.

Because we believe this literature review is a valuable resource for journalists, researchers, students and others, we've also published this section of the report directly on our website so you can access it easily.

Section 2: Opportunities for Productive Co-framing.

In this section, we report on the most promising and encouraging signs from the four co-framing field tests, based in part on post-discussion surveys and interviews of those who participated.

Section 3: Barriers to Productive Co-framing.

Here we examine some of the chief obstacles and challenges to fostering more deliberative community conversations on K-12 issues, as they seem to emerge from this developmental research.

Section 4: Questions Arising from the Co-framing Experiments.

We suggest seven questions that could guide additional research and experimentation.

Why This Project Now

Deliberative conversations on controversial issues among people with different perspectives and experiences are not commonplace in today’s politics.

Moreover, what passes for discussion at school board meetings and community hearings is often advocacy, venting, or speechifying rather than dialogue designed to increase understanding and build common ground for problem solving. Sometimes, these conversations are rough-edged and even raucous.

Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation have experimented with different ways to foster dialogue and deliberation over the years. In the past, we've seen how these processes lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations in circumstances that nourish and support them. We wanted to see if such constructive conversation would be possible around K-12 education, an issue which is becoming increasingly polarized.

Moreover, this project builds on Public Agenda and Kettering research on accountability. See, for example, "Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government, and More" and “Will It Be on the Test? A Closer Look at How Leaders and Parents Think About Accountability in Public Schools."

These two reports suggest that the public often looks at the issue of accountability differently than policymakers and experts. These differing assumptions about accountability are feeding public skepticism and fostering miscommunication and cross-talk between leaders and the citizenry. The contrast seems especially clear in education where national experts and reformers have looked to a metrics-based accountability model to promote improvement in schools — a model that is often questioned by local school leaders, teachers, parents and, to a certain extent, the broader public.

Could co-framing be a potential path for overcoming these shortcomings? Read the report to find out.

About the Project

This small-scale, exploratory project was designed to develop and test ideas for co-framing in K-12 education and to advance our understanding of co-framing’s potential. We completed two strands of research.

In-depth interviews with local school administrators in diverse districts nationwide. Our earlier research showed important differences between the prevailing views among national experts and reformers on the one hand versus those of parents and the broader public on the other. However, we believed it was important to take the pulse of local educators as well before designing a co-framing discussion. Our interviews probed the perspective of local education decision makers on the national reform movement and the various accountability measures that have been instituted in recent years.

Co-framing field tests in four cities – Baltimore, New Orleans, Chicago, and Union City, New Jersey. These field tests employed an innovative, deliberative focus group method to bring together parents, teachers, school administrators, businesspeople, community organization representatives, and nonparent taxpayers. In the group, participants used a Choicework methodology to discuss the mission of local education. Public Agenda moderators led the groups in deliberative conversations on the problems facing K-12 education locally and possible avenues for addressing them. The goal was to test the ability of diverse participants to exchange views on community education issues candidly, civilly, and productively. The field tests included short post-discussion surveys of those in the focus groups and post-discussion interviews with 21 of the total 42 participants.



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Joint Ventures

An Experiment in Community/Professional Co-framing in K-12 Education

Media Type: PDF

This memo summarizes insights from education co-framing field tests. We brought together parents, teachers, school leaders, businesspeople, community organizations and taxpayers in four cities to talk about improving education.

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