Theses Doctoral

Culture, Power, and Pedagogy in Market Driven Times: Embedded Case-Studies of Instructional Approaches Across Four Charter Schools in Harlem, NY

White, Terrenda

In the midst of market-based school reforms urging choice, competition, and high-stakes production of test scores, the complexities of pedagogy and its relationship to culture, power, and student learning are often overshadowed. While research on teaching in culturally diverse contexts has contributed to the development of inclusive and culturally responsive pedagogy (Banks et. al, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Gay, 2000), the fate of these practices in the face of market pressures require critical examination by those concerned with equity in schools serving disadvantaged children (Buras, 2010; Macrine, 2009; Picower, 2011).
Based on a year of extensive interviewing with twenty-two instructional leaders across an urban market of charter schools, as well as interviews and participant-observations with twenty-eight teachers in four purposefully selected charter schools, this study explores whether and how school leaders and teachers make sense of competition and student culture as resources for learning in classrooms, particularly in a predominantly low-income, black/African American, and Latino community in New York City. The study also made use of school documents and reports compiled overtime by schools and charter authorizers at the city and state level.

Findings indicate that a heterogeneous charter sector of independent charter schools shifted overtime to reflect homogenizing tendencies associated with the rise and concentration of schools managed by an influential bloc of private charter management organizations (CMOs). At the intersection of such shifts were teachers and instructional leaders, many of whom describe 'trading-off' on inclusive and diverse approaches to teaching in an effort to yield more tangible and marketable outcomes in the form of test scores. Case studies in four schools, however, revealed important distinctions, as differently managed schools negotiated differently the degrees to which social and cultural boundaries were formed between schools, students, and the surrounding community in which it operated. These negotiations shaped different approaches to teaching and learning and outlooks on competition.
The significance of the study is its negation of a culture-free and/or value-neutral assumption about market policies, primarily by illuminating the tension and impact of such policies on specific pedagogical forms and goals. More importantly, market policies are examined in light of social (re)production theory and the extent to which deregulation disrupts or perpetuates unequal social and cultural relations of power between schools and traditionally marginalized communities.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Wells, Amy Stuart
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014