Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Initial Issues Post: Impacts of School Reform on Community Engagement

sarak's picture

In the literature review The Political Economy go Market-Based Educational Policies by Scott and Holme, the author state that “neoliberal educational reforms,” such as the rise of private charter schools and vouchers “often disrupt traditional pathways to community engagement and reshape them along individualistic dimensions of parental choice” (Scott 252). In light of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as Secretary of Education, I think it would be relevant to consider the impacts of strong support of educational reform, both her own and of the ruling party, on communities that have or have not already been divided on their support of reforms such as private charter schools, especially considering her statement that all schools, private, charter, or public, should not be held to the same standard of accountability. That is to say, how does the establishment of a private charter school in particular urban school district disrupt community engagement? For one, private charter schools might not seek community input in making systematic decisions such as schedules (hours in school, starting/ending times) that would best benefit the community, and it would be difficult if not impossible for community representatives to incentivize change in a charter school, since board members of the school are unlikely to be from the community which they serve. There could also be discord among families who were lottery-ed out of attending a “better performing” charter school than the neighborhood public school. In this example, one should consider that charter schools could also be selective in excluding students of “lower performing demographics” and students with disabilities to minimize resources necessary to help these students, which would propagate inequality within the community. Moreover, assuming students remain in the same neighborhood after high school graduation, one could consider that the divide between public school and charter school attendees could continue as they enter the workforce. Nonetheless, in this highly divisive political climate, I have found that community-based and grassroots initiatives are effective in trying to support the public education system and other democratic learning initiatives, as illustrated in this article: As city councilwoman Helen Gym states in the article, “When we can organize our communities at this level, it is setting the parameters about how we’re going to fight for public education. The fight is being shaped by the communities.” In this spirit, despite the impact of reform on community engagement, it is possible for the the communities to be empowered to resist. 


Scott, J. and Holme, J. (2016). The political economy of market-based educational policies: Race and reform in urban school districts, 1915-2016.  Review of Research in Education, 40, 250-297.


jccohen's picture


I appreciate your thoughtful probing of the implications of charters for urban communities. As you're suggesting here, the question of whether and how communities take up charters or not is a complicated one, with implications on both macro and micro levels.  I'm particularly struck by your recognition of tensions within communities in relation to charters and also your identification of local activism in relation to this issue.  If you go on to use this as a focus for your issue paper, you might look at the Jabbar article in our reading file and also I'd be glad to share a few other pieces with you that could be helpful in thinking all this through.

Also, the issue of 'private' vs 'public' charter is a bit tricky.  Technically, all charters are 'public' in the sense that they can receive public funding for attending students; some are owned by private companies, though.  Something you might want to investigate further.