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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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6. Charter Schools: Demystifying Whiteness in a Market of “No Excuses” Corporate-Styled Charter Schools



The proliferation of charter schools across urban communities of Color is often celebrated as an equity measure that provides more educational choices for students and families. However, the kinds of choices represented, and the actors who structure them, challenge fundamental claims of a “diverse” market of options. Indeed, researchers warn that charter schools increasingly represent a franchised industry of replicated schools subsidized by a small but powerful bloc of largely White venture philanthropists and private foundation leaders (Scott, 2008, 2009). Frankly, when children and families of Color seek alternative choices outside of district schools, they will likely encounter charter schools that are privately coordinated and hierarchically organized by regional and national management organizations that offer a branded “package” of practices (White, 2014). In this chapter, I focus on what these practices are, the beliefs of educators and school leaders who structure them, and the relations of power they signify. In doing so, I argue that assumptions about the equitable nature of charter schools must confront the troubling patterns of White privilege they have rendered, including social and cultural dimensions of racial inequality that maintain barriers to culturally inclusive and responsive teaching inside schools.

While the basic legal definition of a “charter” has not changed over the years—they are legislative contracts granted by public authorizers at state and district levels that permit autonomy from district rules in exchange for accountability—the forces mobilizing for charter schools have shifted dramatically. In its early...

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