Race-Making in Schools of Choice: Teacher Narrative Construction of the Black Interloper
by Carla O'Connor, Shantá R. Robinson, Alaina Neal-Jackson, Elan C. Hope, Adam Hengen & Samantha Drotar - 2019
Background: Blacks are commonly targeted as a population that will benefit from school choice. Drawing upon market theory, school choice advocates argue that educational opportunity will increase for Blacks and other underserved populations when schools are required to compete for students. With choice, the historically underserved can presumably opt into schools that will provide their children higher quality education that confers better educational outcomes. To date, the promise of choice remains unfulfilled.
Purpose/Objective: We examine one underexplored factor that may contribute to the unfulfilled promise of school choice: how professionals make meaning of the very students who are expected to most benefit (in this case Black students) and how this meaning-making may compromise the prospect of greater educational opportunity via choice. In particular, we explore the stories teachers tell about Black students in the course of making meaning of Black underperformance as a professional “problem” and their own role in resolving this problem. Of special concern is how teachers racialize Black students via their narration of the status and experience of these youth and the consequent implications for all Black students in one choice context.
Research Design: The data for this study was collected as part of a multi-year, multi-method study of Black students in three demographically distinct school districts participating in an inter-district school choice system in the Midwest. Relying primarily on focus group interviews with teachers, we evaluated teachers’ narratives within and across districts to determine the discourse patterns that were germane to and differed across districts.
Findings: In the same way that Blacks are not often readily imagined as both Black and American, the Black students in the districts under study were constructed by teachers as interlopers—not readily imagined as both Black and full members of the school communities in which they were enrolled. In blurring these boundaries, teachers 1) rationalized their own sense of professional inefficacy in facilitating the academic success of Black students; and 2) normalized perspectives and practices that situate Black students and their families as deficient.
Conclusion/Recommendations: School choice was not articulated in these districts via professional perspectives and practices that increased Black educational opportunity, but was reconfigured as a trope that rationalized Black exclusion and underperformance. Unless teachers are supported in constructing radically different narratives than those reported herein, they are unlikely to cultivate personal practical knowledge that facilitates Black educational access and opportunity in schools of choice or elsewhere.
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