Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Parental School Choice in San Antonio, TX: A Reflection

I share my preliminary study on parental choice in San Antonio, TX as a comparative to my previous study of parental choice in post-apartheid. Both these studies are important because they both seek to inquire into the nature of parental choices, a growing phenomenon that presents distinct challenges and possibilities for their children. While there is abundance of research about African American/Black parents on school choice and market mechanisms (e.g., Buras, 2009; Chapman, 2005; Pedroni, 2007), there is little research about Latino/a parents on these same issues, particularly as they affect the Latino/parents in San Antonio, TX. I hope to generate some broader discussion in terms of understanding the plight of historically marginalized Latino/a parents in this part of the United States. The comparative aspect is also important because both these communities were historically marginalized, albeit in different contexts, one in the Global South and the other in the Global North.

After 4 decades of apartheid and segregated education in South Africa, new laws allowed desegregation of schools for the first time in 1996. As a result, a large number of Black parents participated in school choice (Ndimande, 2012). In the US, school choice is also connected to attempts to eradicate racial segregation of schools (Lubienski, 2001). In short, this preliminary study compares the perspectives of two groups of parents, in South Africa and San Antonio, Texas, probing their reasoning for the choices they make about their children’s education.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reports that 83,5% Latino/a parents in the San Antonio Independent School District send their children to charter public/private schools. This is a high number considering the large public schools districts that San Antonio currently runs. Contextualize this phenomenon in San Antonio within the history of schools choice across the nation is crucial. Lubienski (2001) argues that in the U.S. school choice dates back to the pre-common school era when communities often had multiple forms of schooling available, including church schools, township schools, home schools, and schools similar to charter schools where localities would contract with non-public providers to offer education to the area (Ibid). Currently, educational policy in the US promotes choice. This policy advances the ideology that a market-oriented approach will benefit the educational outcomes of children. This includes support for competition between schools through national testing systems, national curriculum standards, and the relaxation of certification requirements for teachers (Hursh, 2008; McNeil, 2000). This neoliberal agenda for education reform is further promoted by the establishment of private charter schools (i.e., for-profit schools) and public charter schools (i.e., supported by public funds) to compete with traditional public schools. This competition also entails school choice for parents.

It is also important to note that in the US, there has been considerable research on the actual educational outcomes and the social effects of school choice (for example, Lubienski & Lubienski, 2014). A major set of criticisms target the ability of charter schools to engineer their criteria for admission, which can have the effect of excluding children by social class, ethnicity or various special needs. In South Africa, although Black parents can choose schools, either (wealthy) public or private, their children also face discrimination and cultural prejudice in schools outside Black neighborhoods (Ndimande, 2012).

Both studies are based on in-depth qualitative interviews, which explored the common-sense assumptions that inform the parents’ school choices in these different socio-geographical contexts. One of the preliminary findings in the study with Latino/a parents in San Antonio is about perceived teacher attitudes and lack of commitment to teaching. Most parents said they were not happy about teachers’ attitudes in regards to homework. They were also not happy with teachers’ tendency to label their children as “slow learners.” On the other hand, Black parents of South Africa perceive inequality of resources among schools as one of the major reasons they remove their children from poor schools to wealthy (i.e., formerly White) schools. Their sense of “choice” is tied to the issue of resources.

Both studies show that parents use school choice for reasons that are important to the education of their children. Although most of the Black parents who participate in the South African study are mostly working class and poor, they are fully aware of the importance of receiving a better education, especially in this era of globalization. Likewise, Latino/a parents in San Antonio, who are mostly middle and upper-middle class, do not want to see their children labeled by teachers in public school or being “taught to the test.” They use choice to find ways for their children toward a critical and engaging education in alternative schools. 

by Bekisizwe Ndimande

Bekisizwe Ndimande is Assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction at The Univefrsity of Texas at San Antonio. His research interest include the politics of curriculum and examining the policies and practices in post-apartheid desegregated public schools and the implications of school "choice" for marginalized communities in South Africa.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.


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