In Fits and Starts: Learning to Create A Neighborhood Educational Opportunity Zone

May. 01, 2013

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 115, No. 5, May 2013, pages 1-44
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This research examines a neighborhood educational opportunity zone.
A neighborhood educational opportunity zone is a geographically defined area where a disproportionately large population of traditionally marginalized children and families are clustered and resources are intensely focused to respond to the concomitant needs.
The goal is to scaffold school-community collaboration that reduces inequities in this area, including, but not limited to, educational inequities.

The central question which guides this case study is:
How do communities of practice influence the learning among the adults in a neighborhood educational opportunity zone?

Research Methods
Clare Horizon is a neighborhood in an urban area of the Midwestern United States.
Clare Horizon Community School (CHCS) resulted from merging two public schools that had experienced declining enrollments over the previous five years.

The unit of analysis is CHCS as a subset of the neighborhood educational opportunity zone of Clare Horizon.

The intent was to solicit from the participants:
(1) a description of the central issues that the nascent partnerships were addressing;
(2) who was involved in these partnerships;
(3) how their organization was connected to the partnerships; and
(4) how they were personally connected to the partnerships.

Data Collection and Analysis
Data were generated from archival documents (brochures, organizational publications), interviews, and field notes from site visits.
Data were analyzed by applying the three components of communities of practice: domain, community, and practice.


The learning within the neighborhood educational opportunity zone of Clare Horizon is a messy, convoluted, inconsistent process.
A cadre of individuals involved in school/community partnerships united to form CHCS.
The learning emphasized the domain of poverty and family struggles in the broader region of Clare Horizon.

One potential reason for this is that the participants in this community of practice formed the community exclusively from emerging relationships.
Without formal guidance, the community of practice unfolded organically.

The purpose of the collaborations was understood to be to address problems that students and families of Clare Horizon encountered.
General cohesion existed around defining these problems, while the shared practices of the community remained vaguely defined.

The important point is that neighborhood educational opportunity zones, by definition, are crafting not only new communities of practice, but new constellations among these.
Complex webs of interpersonal relations promote learning within neighborhood educational opportunity zones.
However, learning among the adults in Clare Horizon has not yet generated tangible tools among the members.

The evidence from this case suggests that social capital and relational power were dissipated during these early stages of Clare Horizon, and that the partnerships, to a limited degree, were fostering both.
Social capital was evident in relationships of trust among various members both within schools and between schools and the broader communities.
Relational power was evident in the members of the community of practice collectively achieving goals and accomplishing tasks.
Yet the social capital and relational power were not focused explicitly on student learning outcomes.


In Clare Horizon, a nascent community of practice impelled a neighborhood educational opportunity zone, specifically in the formation of a community school in CHCS.
In the case of CHCS, there is a clear community of individuals committed to the initiative. There is less clarity about the purpose of the enterprise and the ways to pursue it.

In conclusion, the study of the genesis of Clare Horizon points toward the central role that communities of practice play in creating and sustaining such zones.

Updated: Nov. 12, 2013