Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Nicholas Michelli

Committee Members

Judith Kafka

R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy

David Bloomfield

Subject Categories

Civil Rights and Discrimination | Curriculum and Social Inquiry | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Education Law | Other Education


School Choice; Charter Schools; Parents; Black; School Choice Policy; Narative Analysis; Interpretive Policy Analysis; New York City; Brooklyn; Elementary Choice


Charter school proliferation has disproportionately affected Black urban neighborhoods and the debate about the relationship between racial educational equity and enhanced public school choice through charters has created dissension and discord in scholarship and across Black politics, educational organizing efforts, neighborhoods, and school communities. This study is an interpretive policy analysis of the effects of charter school policy on the elementary school choice preferences and experiences of twenty Black parents living in predominately low-income and racially segregated Black Brooklyn neighborhoods where charter schools are disproportionately concentrated. It was designed to identify disparities between the values and goals of school choice policy and the values, goals, and racialized experiences of Black parents engaging in school choice. Each stage of analysis compared and contrasted dominant narratives about choice and public schools with Black parents’ school choice narratives, which constitute an experience-based racial politics of school choice. The analysis identified common racialized challenges Black urban American parents confronted, regardless of class or ethnicity, and compared and contrasted their diverse responses to these challenges to conceptualize a Black standpoint from which to perceive the consequences, limitations, and promise of school choice policy.

Parents who participated in this study internalized and subverted dominant narratives about public school crisis and choice. They discursively valued private schooling over public while also acknowledging a cultural hierarchy of public schools wherein public schools like charters and traditional public schools located in relatively wealthier and Whiter neighborhoods were ascribed with far more symbolic exchange value than their public neighborhood schools. They perceived choice as a means of escape from neighborhood disadvantage related to concentrated urban poverty and what they believed to be their low-income neighbors’ cultural poverty. This finding is counter to the logic undergirding the charter sector’s choice to disproportionately concentrate charters in Black neighborhoods.

Parents also held a related generational belief and had internalized the dominant narrative of engaging in choice as good parenting, and perceived parents of children in private and public schools of choice as invested and involved and parents with children in their neighborhood public schools as ignorant, unmotivated, entitled, and/or uninvolved. Relatedly, they perceived choice as a means to join social networks of parents in culturally valued schools where parents have more capital, and further revealed assumptions of neighborhood cultural deficit and significant intra-racial, –neighborhood, and –school community social ruptures.

Parents also internalized the dominant narrative of the purpose of schooling as preparation for college and careers in an increasingly competitive global society and perceived school choice as a means to dominant cultural capital acquisition. That said, they believed that different classes needed different educational training to meet this end and demanded a diversification of educational models in their neighborhoods. Regardless of class, parents expressed a strong preference for “diverse” schools as a means to meet the end of dominant cultural capital acquisition, a term that seemed to serve as proxy for Whiteness in most accounts. This finding challenges the concept of Black “self-segregation” through preference for and choice of ethnocentric school models.

Finally, some parents’ preferences shifted with social changes or school’s admissions policy or location changes, revealing that parents’ preferences are as unfixed and mutable as the school choice marketplaces they engage in. Further, many parents experienced choice as an iterative and ongoing process. While charter policy enhanced parents’ opportunities to escape and choose public and private schools, they did not find this to be a liberating, empowering, or equitable experience. On the contrary, parents found elementary school mobility to be a confounding, depleting, and guilt- and anxiety-ridden experience. These parents’ school choice stories are an urgent reminder that any reforms to charter school policy must be complimented with reforms to all elements of the public school choice marketplace and that they and their children would not have incurred racialized costs of school choice had any of the twenty parents who participated in this study perceived and/or experienced their neighborhood public school to be a reasonable option.