Academic journal article School Community Journal

A Community-Based Parent Group's Collaboration to Inform School Choice in Detroit: Findings from the First Year

Academic journal article School Community Journal

A Community-Based Parent Group's Collaboration to Inform School Choice in Detroit: Findings from the First Year

Article excerpt

Introduction

A phenomenon is emerging in the U.S., in which middle-class families are moving into gentrifying urban areas and pursuing housing preferences without regard for neighborhood schools. Instead of making the conventional move to the suburbs upon their children's entry into school, many families now favor an urban lifestyle and desire city schools that cultivate a connection to the community. The trend aligns with the formation of parent networks, in which parents collectively research urban schools, share information to inform school choice, and advocate for the betterment of select schools. In addition to promoting enrollment of peer groups with similar values, enrollment patterns have the potential to promote a racially and economically integrative effect on schools and promote educational equity.

This study investigated the national phenomenon of parent networks in revitalizing cities through the lens of a group of Detroit parents. The group known as the Best Classroom Project formed across racial and economic lines and worked together to select and advocate for city schools for their children born in or after 2009. The group was formed in order to (a) gather knowledge of what counts as an effective school, (b) contribute to the integration of schools, (c) gather knowledge of Detroit schools on a school evaluation checklist, (d) advocate for child-centered practices, and (e) identify desired characteristics in selected schools.

The Best Classroom Project was influenced by a similar group functioning in Detroit during the 1980s who collectively researched schools to inform school choice. The researcher's parents were among the critical mass who remained in the city and selected citywide magnet schools during a time when many families were moving to neighboring suburbs. Her multiracial schooling experiences were shaped by teachers who were rooted in the community and maintained high expectations for the students. This background guided school choice for her own daughter. Since the researcher's childhood, though, the educational landscape has changed dramatically, a consequence of high stakes testing pressures, school closures, residential mobility, schools of choice, and charter schools. Moreover, the presence of many low-performing charter and public schools has made public school selection a bewildering process in Detroit, which has among the highest number of school choice offerings in the U.S. (Mason & Arsen, 2014). The availability of so many options has not solved the problems with Detroit schools (Mason & Arsen, 2014); thus, members of the Best Classroom Project felt the need to advocate as a critical mass for equitable schooling opportunities on par with suburban schools. Parent engagement in the process of school selection can be a factor in improving Detroit schools because (1) it brings an element of school accountability, and (2) it can lead to parents participating as leaders in the schools they select.

Strategies Guiding the Formation of the Best Classroom Project

As a response to concerns about the uncertain landscape of school choice, the Best Classroom Project originated from word of mouth and participation on a social networking site. The social networking site became the initial space for generating interest and membership in a parent group aiming to collectively research schools and inform school choices in Detroit. A core group of parents initially held a teleconference call to determine beginning steps, including schools of interest, factors guiding school choices, and willingness to organize and participate in school visits. The group agreed that a survey could help solidify parents' preferences and inform future steps. The survey was accessible to parents on the social networking site.

The group's first face-to-face meeting was held at the home of Lisette, a parent member (all names ofpeople and schools used throughout are pseudonyms). Salient discussion topics included concerns about school quality in comparison with suburban counterparts, large class sizes, and limited extracurricular activities. …

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