Theses Doctoral

Where Their Children Belong: Parents' Perceptions of the Boundaries Separating 'Gifted' and 'Non-Gifted' Educational Programs

Roda, Allison

In recent years, there has been a growing body of research demonstrating that the way parents make choices about schools is anything but colorblind. In fact, some research suggests that parents, particularly middle- or upper-middle-class white parents, make choices about where to live and send their children to school based on perceptions of public school quality and the race and class composition of the school district and/or schools (see Johnson and Shapiro, 2005; Cucchiara, 2008; Lewis, 2003; Holme, 2002; Posey, 2012; Roda & Wells, 2013).
This qualitative case study extends this body of literature by not only examining parents' choices between highly segregated schools and school districts but also within an urban elementary school that offers two self-contained academic programs--a majority white Gifted and Talented ("G&T") program and a majority black and Latino General Education ("Gen Ed") program. It asks how the meanings that parents make about their available school choice options and their sense of "place" within the school system and larger society help to perpetuate and legitimize the separate, stratified system and how this "sense making" is intertwined with the inertia working against changing the system.
This study begins to address these questions by examining the ways that "advantaged" parents--namely white, higher income and highly educated parents (see Bilfulco, Ladd and Ross, 2009)--make sense of their child's place[ment] within a demographically changing New York City elementary school with a G&T and Gen Ed program. Interviews were conducted with 41 advantaged parents with similar degrees of economic and social advantage whose children were enrolled, based on one test score, in the G&T program, Gen Ed program or both to understand the ways in which these social actors simultaneously embody, resist, and reproduce the social structures in which they live their lives and educate their children.
Findings indicate that parent's struggle for high-status positions in the status hierarchy across programs and classrooms in their school. Meanwhile, they embody contradictory dispositions related to their sense of the "place" where they and their children belong within a segregated two-track school, their desire for their children to be exposed to racial/ethnic and socio-economic "diversity" - at least in the abstract and if their children are not in the minority, and their drive to provide their children with the "best" education, even when they are uncertain about what that means within this context.
In contradictory ways, parents say they would prefer to enroll their children in diverse schools that have strong educational programs. But, for most of these advantaged parents, having their children enrolled in a program with other students "like them" in terms of their social status and privilege and thus being associated with other parents "like them" was the most important factor, superseding all other desires, including "diversity." They continue to make choices that privilege their children and perpetuate the status quo. Therefore, studying the contradictions that result from their school choices in a highly segregated system can tell us important information about why social conditions change or get reproduced and how policies could be altered to create fewer distinctions between schools and programs.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Wells, Amy Stuart
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2013