Miller Center

Heather Lewis

History, New York University

Scaling Down: Half a Century of Community Control in New York City's Schools, 1945–95

Lewis photo

Heather Lewis is Associate Professor of Art and Design Education at the Pratt Institute’s School of Art and Design.

Lewis’s teaching and research integrate the history of education, art and design, and urban development through the prism of New York City’s urban communities and their changes over time.

The community control movement in education was part of a multi-pronged movement targeting housing, employment, healthcare, policing and welfare in many of New York City's African-American, Puerto Rican, and Asian communities of the late 1960s. While the movement for community control of schools paralleled and intersected with organizing in other fields, it had a distinct trajectory and a unique set of outcomes because of the role public education is supposed to play in producing the conditions for citizen participation in democratic governance.

Spanning a half-century in New York City's school system (1945–95), Lewis interpreted the historical trajectory of multiple efforts to scale up educational reform by scaling down governance and bureaucracy. Her dissertation claimed that improvement was possible because educators and school board members in these decentralized districts were driven by a similar moral commitment to societal and school change as were the community control activists in the 1960s. Given the limitations of the school system's decentralized structure, a downturn in the local and national economy, and the continued resistance of the teachers' and principals' unions to community control, local district leaders' accomplishments in the '70s and '80s were significant. Lewis's dissertation posited that while the continuity of leadership and improvement in educational outcomes in these districts may not have been representative of the 32 community school districts created under decentralization, the districts' broader social and political contexts were not atypical. Rather than treating the two districts as idiosyncratic, her dissertation argued that other New York City community school districts with similar student populations and committed leadership could have followed a different course if there had been more effective support from the central school system, teachers' and principals' unions, elected officials and the public.

Fellowship year: 2006

Mentor: Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

Selected Recent Publications

New York City’s Public Schools From Brownsville to Bloomberg: Community Control and its Legacy (Teachers College Press, 2013).

Future Teachers and Historical Habits of Mind: A Pedagogical Case Study. History of Education Quarterly, 56, no. 2 (February, 2016)

Assessment by Design: Scaling up by Thinking Small.” in Reframing Quality Assurance in Creative Disciplines (2015): 107-116.

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