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Middle- and Upper-Middle-Class Parent Action for Urban Public Schools: Promise or Paradox?

by Linn Posey - 2012

Background/Context: Recent trends suggest that middle-class parents may be a growing constituency in urban public schools and districts. Within the burgeoning literature on the middle class in urban public schools, most scholars have focused on parents’ goals and orientations and/or the consequences of parental involvement in classroom and school settings. This article broadens the literature’s scope through a focus on middle- and upper-middle-class parents’ “out-of-school,” neighborhood-based engagement. Examining the place-based organizing of a middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhood parents’ group, this article highlights the significant influence that parents’ work outside classrooms and PTA meetings can have on a local school.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The study examines the ways in which middle- and upper-middle-class parent group investments in urban public schooling may mitigate and/or exacerbate existing patterns of inequality in public education. Specifically, the research focuses on the efforts of a predominantly White neighborhood parent group in a Northern California city to increase neighborhood support for and enrollment in their predominantly African American, Title I local public school.

Research Design: An ethnographic case study research design was utilized, with data obtained from the following sources: participant observation in school and neighborhood meetings and events; semi-structured interviews with parents, teachers, staff, and community members; a prospective parent survey; and school and neighborhood parent group artifacts.

Findings/Results: The data reveal that neighborhood parent group members catalyzed community support for their local public school, attracting other middle- and upper-middle-class parents. The community support that the members engendered, however, ultimately threatened the diversity that many desired in a school for their child and contributed to patterns of inequality in district enrollment linked to race, class, and residence.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The research findings suggest that middle- and upper-middle-class parents are in many instances key actors in processes of school and neighborhood change. The efforts of middle- and upper-middle-class parents to invest in urban public schools, regardless of their intentions, may ultimately exacerbate race and class inequalities in public education. The study findings highlight the need for future educational research to examine the role that middle-class parent groups play in urban school reform and the equity implications of their actions.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 1, 2012, p. 1-43
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16213, Date Accessed: 9/22/2021 11:12:12 AM

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About the Author
  • Linn Posey
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    LINN POSEY-MADDOX is assistant professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dr. Posey’s research focuses on race, class, and parent engagement in public schooling and in other learning contexts.
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