In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Community Relations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Data Sets
  • Journals
  • Policy Issues in School-Community Relations
  • Parent and Community Involvement
  • Community Schools
  • Children’s and Family Services Coordination
  • Community Development
  • Community Relations and In-School Learning
  • Neighborhood Context and Child Development
  • Neighborhood Effects on Student Performance

Education Community Relations
Robert L. Crowson, Corey Bunje Bower
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0007


Community relations refers to the environmental connections and interactions characterizing and influencing the management of local school districts and individual schools. Major topics of inquiry in the community relations literature include matters of parent involvement and parental choice; the impact of local community values, cultures, and politics upon the schools; the quality and scope of communications between communities and their schools; neighborhood and family influences upon school achievement; the comparative advantages and disadvantages of communities in their capacities to support student learning; and strategies employed by school and district personnel in using community relations effectively toward improved school achievement. A significant and ongoing policy debate accompanies the community relations field of study in public education. Amid this debate, some scholars claim that the schools can improve in quality, whatever the circumstances of their community contexts. Other scholars, however, stress that improving the capacities of communities to support learning and developing close relationships between schools and their communities are indeed necessary for quality improvement—the schools cannot do it alone. The citations included in this entry have been selected with an eye toward informing additional inquiry and the consideration of potential policy directions around this important debate.

General Overviews

A well-balanced introduction to the broad field of community relations begins most informatively with both “classic” and historically informative pieces of the extant literature. To gain an insight into the school-community relationship, it is advisable to go back in time to progressive-era efforts toward freeing the public schools from all “outside” (especially political) influences. Cronin 1973 and LaNoue and Smith 1973 are classic examples of this type of work. In a similar vein, a number of sociological studies of individual towns in the first half of the 20th century examined family-income factors in an unequal distribution of educational opportunities by the public schools. These include the examination of the impacts of the Jim Crow era on a Southern town in Dollard 1937; Havighurst 1962, a study of schooling in a Midwestern farm town; Hollingshead 1949, a story of the youth of the middle American Elmtown; and Peshkin 1978, an examination of the impact of an agricultural community on the local schools. Finally, important contributions to the early literature on school and community relations documented a first effort to open the schools to community involvement through the creation of “community schools” or through school district decentralization. Kaestle 1983 and Tyack 1974 offer histories of the relationships between schools and communities, and Waller 1932 warns against schools catering to the demands of the community.

  • Cronin, J. M. 1973. The control of urban schools. New York: Free Press.

    Documents the efforts by city school districts in the early 20th century to wrest the control of the public schools from ward bosses into the hands of professional educators.

  • Dollard, J. 1937. Caste and class in a southern town. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    A classic examination of the educational inequities accompanying social class and race during the height of the Jim Crow era in American history.

  • Havighurst, R. J. 1962. Growing up in River City. New York: Wiley.

    A study of schooling, families, and adolescence in a midwestern community during the mid-20th century.

  • Hollingshead, A. B. 1949. Elmtown’s youth. New York: Wiley.

    Examines social-class influences on the upbringing, education, and aspirations of youth in one middle American community during the immediate postwar years of the 1940s.

  • Kaestle, C. E. 1983. Pillars of the republic: Common schools and American society, 1780–1860. New York: Hill and Wang.

    A history of community relations in the development of the “common” (public) school in America from the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries.

  • LaNoue, G. R., and B. L. R. Smith. 1973. The politics of decentralization. Lexington, MA: Lexington.

    A thorough recounting of the effort to decentralize urban school district bureaucracies amid the community-control movement of the 1960s.

  • Peshkin, A. 1978. Growing up American: Schooling and the survival of community. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Examines the impact of a community’s unique agricultural culture upon the administration, curricula, classroom behaviors, and lifeways of the public schools.

  • Tyack, D. 1974. The one best system: A history of American urban education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    A historical review of the school-community relationship, from one-room schooling to the professionalization of governance under progressive-era reforms.

  • Waller, W. 1932. The sociology of teaching. New York: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1037/11443-000

    Warns teachers and administrators against compromising the professional autonomy of schools and classrooms by responding too readily to self-serving families and local interest groups.

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