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

Jan. 01, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 114 Number 1, 2012.

Purpose of Study

This 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.
Data were 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.

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.


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.
This article highlights the significant influence that parents’ work outside classrooms and PTA meetings can have on a local school.

Updated: May. 16, 2012