Posey-Maddox, Linn, & Kimelbrg, Shelley McDonough
Seeking a 'Critical Mass': Middle-Class Parents Collective Engagement in City Public Schooling
Is middle-class parents' collective engagement in schooling particularly important in under-resourced urban contexts?
Journal Name or Institutional Affiliation:
British Journal of Sociology of Education
To the middle-class parents, the choice to enroll their children in an urban public school was often deeply embedded in their relationships with other parents making similar choices.
By bringing critical material resources to under-funded urban schools, these parents made available to the collective student body the type of educational experiences that higher-income families expect but lower-income families often fail to receive.
In each of the three cities, middle-class parents brought new resources and programming, as well as infrastructural improvements, to the schools their children attended. They accomplished this through existing PTOs/ Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), parent neighborhood groups, or newly founded organizations devoted to a particular school
In all three cities, middle-class parents’ actions also had marginalizing and exclusionary effects.
Their data show that this happened in several ways: when parents (deliberately or not) developed class-segregated organizations or networks, when parents pursued agendas that conflicted with the interests of others in the school, and when middle-class parents’ collective engagement ultimately limited the access of less-advantaged students to the school.
Middle-class parents in all three cities described using their social and cultural capital to navigate complex enrollment processes, identify and correct bureaucratic admissions errors, or gain entry into certain ‘desirable’ schools, increasing the likelihood that students whose families lack such capital will end up in less highly regarded schools. This suggests processes similar to ‘exclusionary displacement’ as described in the gentrification literature, raising the question of who benefits from newly improved schools.
The actions of the parents in this study reveal the degree to which middle-class parents can navigate and change even the most intransigent of institutions, illuminating a key dimension of social reproduction.
Findings both support and complicate the dominant discourse surrounding parent involvement and social reproduction. On the one hand, parents’ efforts to create and sustain a ‘critical mass’ of like-minded middle-class families in their children’s schools served as a mechanism through which they attempted to protect their children’s class position in a context that lacked institutional assurances.
Journal Article Empirical Research
Choice, Parents, Social Capital, Social Class, Urban Schools
Method of Analysis:
Middle class parents in urban public schools
Unit of Analysis:
This paper is based upon an analysis of four discrete qualitative datasets focused on the school choices and engagement of middle-class parents in historically low-income, urban public elementary schools in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia
The Boston study was conducted between 2009 and 2010; the Chicago study was conducted between 2011 and 2012; and the two Philadelphia studies were conducted between 2004 and 2007 (at Grant Elementary) and between 2009 and 2010 (at Darcy Elementary).
The data they pulled from includes 88 interviews.
Each of the three cities they studied was hard hit by deindustrialization and its attendant job losses. Each also experienced significant demographic shifts in the second half of the twentieth century as large numbers of white and middle-class families fled to the suburbs. At the same time, each has been the focus of considerable revitalization efforts and has witnessed multiple waves of gentrification.