Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?

By Jack Buckley; Mark Schneider | Go to book overview

11

Building Social Capital in the Nation's Capital:
Can School Choice Build a Foundation
for Cooperative Behavior?
A RECURRENT THEME IN POLICY STUDIES links the structure and performance of public institutions to citizens' attitudes toward government and their willingness to participate in politics and the policy process. Ostrom (1998) argues that identifying the ways that government institutions can be designed to encourage cooperative behavior is one of the central issues in contemporary political science (also see Lubell et al. 2002). However, the literature on social capital portrays a decline in cooperative attitudes and behavior (Putnam 1995, 2000) and questions the extent to which government can nurture them (see especially Fukuyama 1995).In this chapter, we focus on schools as arenas in which parents can develop the norms and expectations essential for cooperative behavior. We pay particular attention to the extent to which reorganizing schools through the introduction of school choice affects such attitudes. We believe that by analyzing how a change in the way an important government service, in this case, schooling, is organized and then linking this institutional change to the attitudes parents hold toward each other and toward teachers allows us to address three fundamental questions:
Can government institutions build the foundation for interpersonal trust, cooperation, and participation in the policy process?
If the answer to the first question is yes, is this effect domain-specific or are the effects more general, spilling over into attitudes in other, broader, domains?
And, do these effects endure over time?

Specifically, we examine the effect of a particular institutional reform— charter schools—on parental civic participation. After reviewing the literature linking the design of government institutions to civic participation and attitudes, we turn to an empirical analysis using our longitudinal survey data. We begin by assessing the effect of enrollment in charter schools on a variety of familiar measures of school and broader civic attitudes.

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