The Neighborhood School Stigma: School Choice, Stratification, and Shame

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McWilliams, Julia Ann
Policy Futures in Education
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12-05-2017 2:53 PM
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Social scientists have begun to document the stratifying effects of over a decade of unprecedented charter growth in urban districts. An exodus of students from traditional neighborhood schools to charter schools has attended this growth, creating troubling numbers of vacant seats in neighborhood schools as well as concentrating larger percentages of high-need student populations like special education students and English Language Learners in these schools (Buras, 2014; Gabor, 2014; Knefel, 2014). In cities like Philadelphia, the maintenance of two parallel educational systems--one charter, the other district--has also strained budgets and contributed to fiscal crises that have further divested traditional district schools of critical resources (Popp, 2014). How are youth, teachers, and staff in neighborhood schools responding to these conditions and the moral associations that the "neighborhood school" has come to invoke within an expanding educational marketplace? What does it mean to attend and/or work in a traditional neighborhood school in the midst of the dramatic restructuring of urban public education? Using frameworks developed in anthropological and sociological studies of social stigma, I explore in this paper how the power of market stratification has come to influence the intensification of institutional stigmas around the traditional neighborhood school (Anyon, 1980; Goffman, 1963; Link and Phelan, 2001). Drawing on ethnographic data from a neighborhood school in Philadelphia, I center youth perspectives on their aspirations and life chances given their status as students in a non-selective neighborhood school in my analysis. I ultimately interrogate how notions of race, educational quality, and [lack of] school choice, impact this neighborhood school community's sense of worth and future as individuals as well as an institution.
Socioeconomic Status
Family and Community Involvement
Charter Schools