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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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5. School Choice: The Freedom to Choose, the Right to Exclude



It’s a Tuesday afternoon in February, and Tasha has arrived early for a workshop that is organized at the Head Start center where her four-year-old child attends preschool. The workshops are held every Tuesday afternoon and focus on public school access for low-income parents. This is Tasha’s first time in attendance. There’s a drip in the classroom sink that, alternating with the “bloop” of the small fish tank, provides a percussion-like background as she waits. Soon, two more women trickle in. Like Tasha, both Nicole and Edith also have children who currently attend the Head Start center. Next year, their children will exit the Head Start center and enter kindergarten. In preparation, both women also regularly participate in the weekly workshops. They have been meeting together since October.

This Tuesday, the rose-colored tiles that cover the floors take on a darker hue, as there is not much sun that makes it through the cinder-block glass windows. Outside is Aberdeen Avenue, and the thick glass provides a barrier between the small children inside and the “big kids” outside who attend the two middle schools across the street. The middle schools are housed in one building, Adam Clayton Powell (ACP), which takes up an entire block. Edon is the honors middle school program for Community School District 3 in New York City.1 The other school, STRIVE, otherwise known as ACP, serves a “general” student population. As a reviewer for Insideschools’s popular education website put...

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