read readings and write a journal

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Question Description

Write your analytical response to this week’s topics. Your response should address the following questions: a. What parts from the audio documentary did you find surprising/shocking? Why? (Feel free to add personal connections to the stories narrated in the documentary). b. Do you agree/disagree that schools are institutions that produce and reproduce inequalities? Please explain your reasoning, and support your analysis and arguments by drawing from all four readings from this week’s list.


Please be sure not to make unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, to support your arguments, be sure to draw from the readings by providing appropriate and academic in-text citations.

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School Choice Policies and Racial Segregation: Where White Parents’ Good Intentions, Anxiety, and Privilege Collide ALLISON RODA Teachers College, Columbia University AMY STUART WELLS Teachers College, Columbia University A growing body of school choice research has shown that when school choice policies are not designed to racially or socioeconomically integrate schools, that is, are “colorblind” policies, they generally manage to do the opposite, leading to greater stratification and separation of students by race and ethnicity across schools and programs. Since white, advantaged parents are more likely to get their children into the highest-status schools regardless of the school choice policy in place, we believed that more research was needed on how those parents interact with school choice policies and whether they would support changes to those policies that would lead to less segregation across schools. Our interviews with advantaged New York City parents suggest that many are bothered by the segregation but that they are concerned that their children gain access to the “best” (mostly white) schools. The contradictions inherent in their choices are reconcilable, we argue, by offering more diverse and undivided school options. Throughout the history of American education, various school choice policies have been devised to accomplish different goals. For instance, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, southern school districts implemented so-called freedomof-choice and tuition voucher programs specifically to assure that schools remained racially segregated. Then, in the era of school desegregation, various school choice programs, including magnet schools and voluntary transfer plans, were created to do the exact opposite, namely, to promote racial integration and more diverse schools (see Wells 1993). More recently, popular school choice policies, including charter schools, voucher plans, and open enrollment programs, have been enacted in most Electronically published December 7, 2012 American Journal of Education 119 (February 2013) 䉷 2012 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0195-6744/2013/11902-0003$10.00 FEBRUARY 2013 261 School Choice and Segregation states to foster greater competition for students among schools. These plans are designed specifically to infuse market-based principles into governmentfunded schools and thereby foster innovation. Interestingly enough, given the history of school choice in the United States, these newer school choice policies are not designed to specifically address issues of racial segregation (Wells 1993). In this way they are considered “colorblind.” Still, a growing body of research has documented a strong positive correlation between increasing racial/ethnic segregation in public schools and the growth in these popular so-called colorblind and more market-based school choice policies, which do not explicitly promote racial integration (see Mead and Green 2012; Mickelson et al. 2008; Wells and Roda 2008). In other words, mounting evidence suggests that when school choice policies are not designed to promote racial integration—which most newer school choice policies are not—they generally manage to do the opposite by leading to greater stratification and separation of students by race and ethnicity across schools and programs. In a society with an increasingly diverse school-age population (now only 54% white, non-Hispanic [NCES 2010]), this pattern of choice-based racial segregation occurs—even when a growing number of parents say they want their children to attend racially diverse schools (Farkas et al. 1998; Orfield 1995; Wells et al. 2009). Meanwhile, the number of students participating in these colorblind, market-based school choice plans is on the rise (now more than 2 million), as is racial/ethnic segregation in K–12 education (CER 2010; Civil Rights Project 2011; NCES 2011;). When trying to understand the segregative effect of these newer school choice policies, some researchers have focused on how parents make school choices (see Bell 2009; Glazerman 1998; Goldring and Phillips 2008; Kisida et al. 2008; Lankford and Wyckoff 2000; Schneider and Buckley 2002; Schneider et al. 2000; Sinkkink and Emerson 2007; Weiher and Tedin 2002). Others have also examined the relationship between parents with the most advantage in the system ALLISON RODA is a doctoral candidate in the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a graduate research associate for the Center for Understanding Race and Education (CURE). Her current research examines how advantaged families make sense of where their children belong in a stratified and segregated urban school. AMY STUART WELLS is a professor of sociology and education and the director of the Center for Understanding Race and Education (CURE) at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research and writing have focused broadly on issues of race and education and more specifically on educational policies such as school desegregation, school choice, charter schools, and tracking and how they shape and constrain opportunities for students of color. 262 American Journal of Education Roda and Wells in terms of race, social class, education, and social networks and student access to the most coveted schools within an educational market (Holme 2002; Johnson and Shapiro 2003). Still others have considered how the policies themselves constrain the choices parents make. For instance, some researchers have argued that because the newer choice plans lack diversity goals, racial quotas or guidelines, outreach to different communities, and free transportation to and from racially isolated neighborhoods, they severely limit parents’ choices. Therefore, when parents are choosing schools under these newer, more market-based policies, it is difficult for them to enroll their children in schools far from home, across race and class boundaries that divide communities and social networks the way school desegregation programs did (see Ni and Donahue 2004; Wells and Holme 2008). There is also some evidence that the process of sorting students through choice polices leads to self-fulfilling prophecies of “good” and “bad” schools, as those enrolling the most students from advantaged families are automatically seen as “better” (see Bifulco et al. 2009; Holme 2002; Wells et al. 2009). Once those labels are established, upper-middle-class and affluent white parents often have greater access to the most exclusive schools (see Holme 2002; Johnson and Shapiro 2003). In this way, the newer, post-desegregation, and thus “colorblind,” school choice policies and processes often exacerbate stratification and segregation (Wells and Roda 2008). The school choice policy we studied is not a voucher or charter program, but rather a public elementary school choice plan operating within one of the community school districts, which we call District Q, in the larger New York City public school system. While there are important differences between District Q’s school choice plan and more market-based plans, like vouchers and charter schools, there are some similarities as well. The central goal of the District Q program is to maximize parental choice, primarily through a kindergarten lottery system that provides parents with the possibility of enrolling their children in schools and programs outside their attendance zones. The aim of this program has never been to racially or socioeconomically diversify District Q schools. In this way, the kindergarten school choice program is “colorblind,” letting school diversity chips fall where they may. Studying the processes by which parents make choices in contexts such as this one, therefore, is extremely helpful in explaining the demographic outcomes of many new laissez-faire policies such as charter school and voucher programs. In fact, because District Q’s overall student demographics combined are extremely racially and ethnically diverse, the relationship between colorblind school choice policies and racial segregation is even more pronounced here than in other contexts. Our study allowed us to examine that relationship by interviewing parents about how they made sense of their kindergarten choices amid these racial distinctions across schools and programs. FEBRUARY 2013 263 School Choice and Segregation Furthermore, although much of the recent school choice literature has focused on low-income communities and the impact of school choice policies, especially charter schools, on student outcomes, our focus instead is on the parents who have the most political power within the educational system and who often work within and around that system to make their school choices. Given that these more advantaged parents have the most knowledge and resources to navigate the school choice system (see Bifulco et al. 2009), they are more likely to get their children into the highest-status schools regardless of the specific school choice policies in place. We believed, therefore, that more research was needed on these parents’ interactions with the local school choice policies and how these parents make decisions about which schools are desirable within that policy context. While we knew that the choices of these parents often drive the school choice process by defining which schools are the “best,” we knew little about how these parents make sense of the choice plans themselves and whether they would support any changes to those policies that would lead to less stratification and segregation across schools. We also knew that policy makers in large urban school districts have historically created “exclusive” and often racially isolated schools of choice, including those with programs for “gifted” students, in an effort to keep more white, advantaged parents in urban public schools (Borland 2009; Gootman 2009; Gootman and Gebeloff 2008; Sapon-Shevin 2003). The assumption behind such programs is that these parents both demand and require separate and unequal educational spaces for their children. In fact, our interviews with white, mostly upper-middle-class parents suggest, somewhat contrary to these assumptions, that many of these parents are bothered by the racial and socioeconomic segregation within and among schools that results from these policies, but they are simultaneously anxious and concerned that their children win the “race to the top” of a highly competitive and stratified system. The contradictions between these two ways of looking at their local options are reconcilable, we argue, through alternative policies that local officials should consider. Within the school choice literature, therefore, what has not been closely examined is how this cycle of social reproduction and resegregation occurs at the intersection of school choice policies and the process by which advantaged parents simultaneously weigh their choices, worry about their children’s chances in a competitive and unequal educational system, and consider the benefits of racially diverse schools in preparing their children for a global society. We argue, based on our research, that many advantaged, mostly white parents contemplate all of these factors at once and struggle with the contradictions between their options, their anxieties, and their beliefs. Our goal, therefore, was to understand this tension within the individuals who, through their privilege, drive much of the stratification in the educational system and 264 American Journal of Education Roda and Wells thus to better understand this intersection of parents, possibilities, and anxieties. We conclude that there are several potential points of intervention in the school choice–school segregation cycle—if policy makers would only act on them. As public school parents of older children in the New York City community school district we studied, our unique vantage point into this segregated system provided us with “insider knowledge” of the school choice options that the kindergarten parents in our sample were choosing among. Studying parental kindergarten school choice within this large “community” school district several years after our own children had graduated from kindergarten allowed us the unique vantage point of being unknown to our respondents and yet aware of their larger context. Choosing Segregated Schools in New York City’s District Q To explore these issues, we interviewed 59 randomly sampled parents of different racial/ethnic backgrounds who participated in the 2006 kindergarten school choice process for both general education and gifted education within District Q. At the time of our study, District Q had implemented a new, centralized choice system with two options that parents could participate in if they were unhappy with their assigned zoned school: (1) a district-wide lottery system for general education programs (meaning those students not enrolled in the gifted and talented program) in which parents could rank up to six schools on the lottery application and then were randomly selected to attend one of the schools on their list and/or (2) a District Q gifted and talented (a.k.a. G&T) admissions process, involving a separate application decided by student’s scores on the G&T test, preschool teacher recommendations, and space/capacity issues in each program. In fact, as we will show below, we found that many parents participated in both school choice options to increase their chances of getting their children into an “acceptable” general education or G&T program. District Q officials asked us to conduct this research and thus provided us with the contact information of all parents who participated in the school choice lottery and/or G&T admissions program so that they could learn how satisfied parents were with the new centralized system. The aggregated student population of District Q’s 18 elementary schools was, as we noted above, diverse: 38% African American, 35% Hispanic, 23% non-Hispanic whites, and 5% Asian (NYCDOE 2006). However, District Q’s students are highly segregated by race and ethnicity across and within the school buildings, with white, non-Hispanic students consistently in the most coveted schools and G&T programs. Thus, even those schools that are diverse in terms of their FEBRUARY 2013 265 School Choice and Segregation school-level enrollment are, more often than not, highly segregated within or across classrooms designated as “gifted” or “general” education. In this article, we examine the contradictions between what advantaged parents say and what they do when confronted with segregated schools and school programs. Thus, we focus here on interview data from the 39 white, more advantaged parents interviewed as part of the larger study. In these indepth interviews, we heard how advantaged parents made sense of their school choice options and how those options often clashed with their understanding of the type of education they wanted for their children. These parents said, as the vast majority of parents in national opinion polls do, that it is either “very” or “somewhat” important for their children to attend a racially/ethnically diverse school to prepare them for a global economy and society (Farkas et al. 1998). And yet, when it came time to choose schools for their children, white parents with economic means in District Q are drawn toward schools (and separate G&T programs within schools) that are predominantly white and thus far more racially homogeneous than the school district as a whole. In order to introduce what we have learned from these interviews with white parents, we provide a conceptual framework of the school choice process within a racially segregated and increasingly unequal educational and social context (see Wells et al. 2009). As contradictory as these District Q parents’ decisions may be, they are not surprising given the few “good” school choice options available and the parents’ anxiety about helping their children “win” in the competitive scramble for the more prestigious educational credentials. Therefore, given the larger context of these parents’ choices, this study provides a more nuanced understanding of how social reproduction is perpetuated through school choice policies and how policy makers could break that cycle. The Social Context of Advantaged Parents’ Choices in Education: Why Today Is a Different Time Over the past 30 years, social scientists have documented two contradictory trends related to white parents’ relationships to racially diverse schools. First, public opinion polls show that a growing number of white, non-Hispanic Americans, including parents of school-age children, embrace the concept of racial diversity in public schools (see Orfield 1995). According to one national survey, a majority (66%) of white parents said that it is “very” or “somewhat” important for their children to attend a diverse school. Only 16% of white parents said that racial diversity was “not important at all” (Farkas et al. 1998). Similarly, in-depth interviews with nearly 250 graduates of racially diverse public schools reveal that virtually all the white graduates thought that diverse public schools could better prepare their children for the twenty-first century 266 American Journal of Education Roda and Wells (see Wells et al. 2009). Yet, at the same time that opinion polls have traced whites’ growing acceptance of racial diversity in public schools over time, the nation’s schools have become increasingly segregated (Orfield and Lee 2007). In fact, according to national statistics, about 40% of black and Latino students attend hyper-segregated schools where 90%–100% of students are children of color, while white students remain the most segregated from other racial groups (Civil Rights Project 2011; Clotfelter 2004; Gandara 2010). These two contradictory but simultaneous trends suggest that whites are saying one thing about school diversity and doing another when it comes to actually choosing and enrolling their children in schools. In fact, there is a small but growing body of literature documenting these contradictions between what parents say and what they do in relation to school-level diversity (see Smrekar 2009; Wells et al. 2009). Understanding this apparent contradiction— how white parents make sense of it and the policies that circumscribe it—is critical to exploring the limits and possibilities of future efforts to address educational inequality. Social scientists have long grappled with how to make meaning of contradictions between what people say and what they do, and the tensions they embody as they make choices that are sometimes inconsistent with their beliefs or understandings of who they are or the kind of society they envision (BonillaSilva and Forman 2000; Lewis 2001). For instance, people are very dependent on fossil-fuel burning cars at the same time that they may strongly believe that alternative fuels would be better for the environment and the economy. While social science research often tries to ignore or control for these internal contradictions and tensions to reveal the “answer” and thus the “truth,” some social theorists find studying the tensions helpful for understanding why social conditions change or not. In considering the contradictions and tensions embodied within the New York City parents we interviewed, we found Bourdieu’s concept of “fractured” or “cleft” habitus (Bourdieu 1997) most helpful because it demonstrates how social actors both embody and resist the social conditions in which they live their lives and educate their children. “Habitus” has been defined as the internalized embodiment of external social structures that shape a person’s disposit ...
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