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What’s Race Got To Do With It?

How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequality


Edited By Bree Picower and Edwin Mayorga

Within critical discussions of school reform, researchers and activists are often of two camps. Some focus their analyses on neoliberal economic agendas, while others center on racial inequality. These analyses often happen in isolation, continuing to divide those concerned with educational justice into «It’s race!» vs. «It’s class!» camps. What’s Race Got To Do With It? brings together these frameworks to investigate the role that race plays in hallmark policies of neoliberal school reforms such as school closings, high-stakes testing, and charter school proliferation. The group of scholar activist authors in this volume were selected because of their cutting-edge racial economic analysis, understanding of corporate reform, and involvement in grassroots social movements. Each author applies a racial economic framework to inform and complicate our analysis of how market-based reforms collectively increase wealth inequality and maintain White supremacy. In accessible language, contributors trace the historical context of a single reform, examine how that reform maintains and expands racial and economic inequality, and share grassroots stories of resistance to these reforms. By analyzing current reforms through this dual lens, those concerned with social justice are better equipped to struggle against this constellation of reforms in ways that unite rather than divide.

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3. School Closings: The Nexus of White Supremacy, State Abandonment, and Accumulation by Dispossession



On May 22, 2013, Chicago’s mayor-appointed Board of Education voted to close 49 neighborhood elementary schools and one high school, affecting around 40,000 students. The decision followed seven tumultuous months of protest in which literally tens of thousands of parents, students, teachers, and community members testified at public hearings, marched, picketed, sat in, held press conferences and vigils, and more to stop their schools from being closed. The 2013 closings were on top of more than 10 years of drastic school actions in which the board closed, phased out, consolidated, or turned around 105 neighborhood public schools. Massive school closings have similarly hit New York, the District of Columbia, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other urban districts (Gym, 2013; Pedroni, 2011; Vevea, 2013). Beginning in fall 2014, New Orleans will not have a single traditional neighborhood public school left (Layton, 2014b). At the same time, these districts have expanded privately operated charter schools and provided new selective enrollment schools targeted to affluent and White students.

This policy is remaking the race and class landscape of K–12 education in the United States as a constitutive part of the spatial, economic, and racial restructuring of cities themselves (Lipman, 2011). Understanding the social, economic, and political logics underlying this process, as well as its consequences for working-class students, families, and communities of Color, is crucial to develop strategies to resist these policies and to supersede them with a community and educator-driven agenda of educational equity...

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