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A novel set of civic activists arose in Los Angeles in the 1990s, gaining independence from neoliberal advocates and labor leaders to advance a variety of school reforms over the next three decades. In turn, student learning climbed steadily during the period. This paper first describes the rise of these “new pluralists” – a diverse coalition of black and Latina leaders, civil rights attorneys, pro-equity nonprofits, and pedagogical reformers – and sketches their efforts to equitably fund central-city schools, improve teacher quality and student engagement, and decriminalize discipline. I then review accumulating evidence on which institutional changes empirically predict gains in pupil outcomes, further informed by qualitative studies. These plural actors, rooted in humanist ideals, challenged the individualistic and competitive values of neoliberals. Carving-out a third civic space, they lifted achievement on average, but have yet to find policy strategies that narrow racial disparities in learning.
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