Theses Doctoral

Tipping in: School integration in gentrifying neighborhoods

Stillman, Jennifer Burns

The purpose of this study is to examine the school choice process of Gentry Parents --white, middle and upper-middle class, highly-educated parents living in gentrifying neighborhoods -- to determine how, through the compounding effect of their many individual choices, a segregated urban school in a gentrifying neighborhood is able to transform into an integrated school, a process I call "tipping in." This study uses data from 52 formal interviews of Gentry Parents in three different gentrifying/gentrified neighborhoods in New York City, and data from dozens of informal interviews and observations of Gentry Parents on playgrounds, school tours, and in pre-school cubby rooms. This study found that tipping in happens through the actions and reactions of different types of Gentry Parents: Innovator and Early Adopter Gentry Parents who are willing to be the first of their peer group to enroll their child in a segregated school, and Early Majority and Late Majority Gentry Parents who will only enroll their children in a school once their peers have gone in and done the hard work of changing the culture of the school to feel "middle class." After the Innovators, each subsequent wave of Gentry Parents will only enroll their children in a school if the prior wave keeps their children enrolled. This study suggests that Gentry Parents often take their children out of a school during the tipping in process, making retention of gentry children as important to tipping in as attracting them in the first place. Attracting gentry children appears to be difficult because Gentry Parents primarily prefer schools that are diverse and progressive, attributes not typically found in segregated urban schools. Retaining gentry children appears to be difficult primarily because Gentry Parent school expectations often do not match the reality of an integrating school, and principals are described as struggling to manage the culture gap that reportedly exists between Gentry Parents and non-Gentry Parents.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 17, 2011