Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


The Economic Opportunity Act 

The Economic Opportunity Act aided and augmented the community control movement, which originated in the 1960's. The law stated that programs would be " developed, conducted, and administered with the maximum feasible participation of the residents of the areas and members of the groups served." It called for community action programs to mobilize resources that could be used in a direct attack on the roots of poverty. Congress funded community school programs which would bring about " a significant shift in the sources of power affecting the control and support of school and opened a revolution in the politics of educational policy making." (Wayson, W.W. , March 1966, "The Political Revolution in Education" pp.333-339.)

The Community Control Movement, which originated in the 1960's, had a broad range of participants, including community groups, minority parents, teacher unions, and school administrators. This new movement in educational policy frequently led to confrontations among these diverse groups. The idea behind the movement was to shift power from teachers and administrators over to the local lay person. Along with the school and district administration, the community would share in the decision-making power in regards to the ways that the schools would be run. The significant policy making power was now extended to the citizens in order to influence the schools' personnel, curriculum, and budget levels. The purpose of community control was to increase community participation in the making of school policy, especially by the poor and those who were not previously involved. This allowed for greater political accountability among educators.

Community organizations argued with administrators and teacher unions that poor children could be better educated if the institution in charge was controlled by the community itself, rather than the educators. These organizations felt this would lead to greater parental participation, greater school innovation, and most importantly, improved academic performance. In opposition, superintendents and teachers felt this was like letting the passengers, not the pilot, fly the plane. They did not want to relinquish control since they believed they were the "experts". After several student strikes, parent picket lines, and demonstrations at board meetings, the school board became convinced that they had lost touch with large segments of minority communities, especially in the inner cities.

After the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, the federal government poured money into initiating the community control movements across the country. Yet in 1968, following the election of Richard Nixon, funding was put to an immediate halt. The cities that were entering the implementation phase of the movement were thus plunged into financial crisis. The federal government and private groups, such as The Ford Foundation, ignited this movement by bringing the funds into these poor urban communities. Once the funding was withdrawn by Nixon, often referred to as "tricky Dick", the community control movement died in its tracks and never regained the opportunity to change the educational structure.

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which funded the Community Control Movement in public schools, was common to other events in the 60's. This movement attempted to shift the system into a new direction. It advocated community involvement in all aspects of the local schools in an attempt to bring disenfranchised urban groups into the loop. It was a reform movement which led to protests and demonstrations from the community, teachers, as well as the administration. These protests were not unlike those in Alabama of 1963, when John F. Kennedy sent troops into Alabama in order to desegregate their schools. Desegregation was also a new type of reform which met with more resistance in comparison to the Community Control Movement. The 1969 Teatro de la Esperanza, or "theater of hope", at UCSB was another method in the 60's which was used to help those who had been disenfranchised by the system vent their frustrations in an open forum. As the parents in the communities, who spoke of racial inequalities, these student were also given an opportunity to voice or act out their rage against ethnic injustice. There were numerous protest movements during the 60's, which dealt with the issue of inequality in America. Yet, perhaps none was greater or lasting than Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 when he delivered his, "I Have A Dream" speech.

One of the events which occurred before the Community Control Movement was the "Lemongrove Incident" in 1931. This event took place in San Diego at a time well before the national desegregation movements. The local Hispanic community felt that their children were not receiving the same quality of education as their white counterparts. They felt there was a racial bias being enacted by the Parent/Teacher Association (PTA). The Hispanic community argued that the PTA was preventing their children from entering local schools with whites and as well as providing the Hispanic community with an inadequate educational environment. They won their segregation lawsuit.

The Lemongrove Incident was perhaps a precursor to the Community Control Movement of the 60's. In 1938, the case Gaines vs Canada (Missouri) was another community reform issue. Although Mr. Gaines was unable to desegregate the Missouri Law School, the courts decided that he should be able to attend a separate but equal law school.


School-Based Management as School Reform. "Taking Stock", By: Joseph Murphy & Lynn G. Beck; Corwin Press Inc. 1995.

Prepared by: Mark H. Davis

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Last updated on May 26, 2002.


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