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Title page for ETD etd-07162014-144511

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Duncan, Ebony Michelle
URN etd-07162014-144511
Title The Color of Change? Race and Charter Schools in an Age of Neoliberal Education Reform
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Katharine Donato Committee Chair
  • charter schools
  • race
  • policy
  • neoliberalism
Date of Defense 2014-03-25
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation examines the extent to which charter schools redress longstanding racial inequalities in education. Charter schools have emerged amid competing public agendas which stem, in part, from the contradictions of neoliberalism. Neoliberal policies allow private agencies to manage and distribute public resources, but such shifts in service delivery often have unintended consequences for social inequality. When charter schools are implemented as education reform in districts with failing schools, it is important to consider the extent to which these institutions facilitate access for traditionally underserved groups. I integrate critiques of neoliberalism with racialization frameworks to examine how race influences where charter schools locate, who they serve, and what they mean in local contexts.

I use mixed methods to consider what spatial, parental involvement, and discourse patterns reveal about charter schools as public education reform. I analyze nationally-representative data from the U.S. Department of Education, including the Common Core of Data and the Education Longitudinal Study, using geographic information systems (GIS) and hierarchical linear modeling. I also analyze a sample of newspaper articles to describe ways that race enters charter school discourse.

I find that charter school framing, spatial, and enrollment patterns appear to facilitate access for black children across the United States; however, these institutions may fall short of improving relationships with black parents. Findings reveal spatial and service match between charter schools and predominately black, high poverty neighborhoods in many cities. My analyses of charter school discourse also suggest that race is used to endorse charter schools as education reform in low-income, predominately black public school districts. Results also indicate, however, that after controlling for parent background and attitudes, black parents with students in choice and private high schools are less engaged in school-based activities than parents in traditional public schools. These findings underline the importance of race for understanding whether charter schools facilitate access to educational opportunities for disadvantaged black families.

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