the political economy of “nice white parents,” part deux – what do people actually want from schools?

Note: In the previous post, I called the non-white parents “local,” which Andrew Gelman thought was inaccurate. I will now call them “PoCs” (Parents of Color).

This is the second post on the podcast called “Nice White Parents” by Chana Joffe-Waltz. It is produced by the New York Times and it is about the history of a school in Brooklyn where “Nice White Parents” (NWPs) demanded and then bailed on school integration. In the last post, I focused on the fact that public schools often have multiple, conflicting constituents.

In this post, I want to focus on a related issue – exactly what do people want schools to do? If you are an education researcher or sociologist of education, you know this issue well. People want schools to do everything, and I mean everything. A small example: a few weeks ago, I was rereading Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? What is her replacement for prisons? You got it – schools!

In the podcast, I found that people discussed or interviewed wanted public schools to do the following:

  • Make good citizens
  • Provide a racially diverse experience for kids
  • Provide a safe place for learning reading and the basics
  • Provide advanced topics like French immersion
  • Provide schooling close to where they live
  • Provide discipline and order for kids
  • Improved standardized test scores
  • Individualized education
  • Prepare people for jobs
  • Equal access to schools
  • Rewards for gifted or high achieving and/or special needs students
  • Provide for democratic input into schools

These are not bad goals, but they do compete with each other and sometimes they conflict. For example, since schools usually draw on local populations, you may get de facto segregated schools if housing markets are segregated. So “school close by” and “racially mixed” are simply incompatible in many places. Something has to give.

In private school settings and charter school settings, the administration can pick goals. They choose some and tell parents “take it or leave it.” In fact, the Success Academy does exactly that. They focus on standardized education, classroom orders, and “one size fits all.” Parents are not allowed to have input and lots of parents leave. This is often easier said than done, as wealthy parents will still press private schools that need money, but I’d would guess the private or charter school administrator has an easier time than their public school counter part.

In terms of PS. 93 in Brooklyn, the school (until recently, which we’ll get to later) seems to have simply let everyone try everything. NWPs tried international schooling and French immersion, which PoCs did not want or need. PoCs wanted basic skills and safety, which NWPs weren’t interested in as their kids often had special tracks. And the administration itself was constantly juggling the demands of all these groups.

The bottom line here is that “Nice White Parents” is not merely a story of racial division in education, it is also a great example of the conundrum of trying to provide a service in a highly open and democratic manner. The intentions are good, but when everyone gets input and no one is really accountable, you get very murky results.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 25, 2020 at 1:35 pm

Posted in uncategorized

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