11/06/2012 02:22 PM
BATON ROUGE – LSU Professor Petra Munro Hendry recently published an article in the
American Journal of Education, a University of Chicago Press publication, based on
a one-year case study of parent choice at an elementary foreign language immersion
magnet school in Baton Rouge.
“The Ironies of School Choice: Empowering Parents and Reconceptualizing Public Education”
addresses parents’ experiences as critical actors in current school choice reforms,
and how increased parental engagement is affecting democratic education.
According to Hendry and co-author, Heather K. Olsen Beal, assistant professor at Stephen
F. Austin State University, this study suggests that policies both empower and disempower
parents in complex and contradictory ways as participatory citizens in school choice.
The concept of school choice, embedded in federal and state programs like No Child
Left Behind, is based on an assumption that empowering parents with choices will hold
schools accountable and improve education by creating a competitive marketplace-like
setting. As a consequence all families should enjoy equal access to quality schools.
The Hendry/Beal research findings, however, suggest that school choice did not create
new “equal opportunity.” Rather, unintentional gate-keeping mechanisms created a new
level of privileged parents.
The idea of school choice also assumes that parents will utilize objective data, such
as test scores, in order to make a “rational” decision about school choice.
This research, however, suggests that parents embraced a more complex decision-making
process, investigating multiple sources of data including “grapevine” networks, their
personal impressions of schools, and each school’s curriculum offerings rather than
relying on objective test data.
The study raises questions about the ways in which current educational reforms complicate
definitions of “private” and “public” in relation to democracy. By engaging in choice,
parents participate in a market culture, situating schools as a private consumer good.
Conceptualizing public education as a private good, rather than a public one, advances
an understanding of democracy as a consumer commodity.
According to Hendry’s study, this effect means democracy itself, not just education,
is being reformed.
Hendry is the St. Bernard LSU Alumni Association Professor in the College of Human Sciences & Education’s School of Education and the co-director of the Curriculum Theory Project, or CTP, an interdisciplinary research initiative that endeavors to understand education practice and reform within a broad social, political and cultural framework. For more information about LSU’s CTP, visit http://educ-calvin2.lsu.edu/~lsuctp/index.htm.
Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2012