School Choice in Urban America, by Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999. 152 pp. $19.95, cloth; $46.00, paper.
Reviewed by James E. Terrell, Howard University.
The purpose of this contribution to the literature is to accomplish two goals. The first is to examine in depth the policies and practices that shape the nation's magnet schools. Second, this work seeks to contribute to the debate among educational leaders, policymakers, and researchers regarding the meaning and importance of magnet schools to the experiences and opportunities of students and their families. Toward these ends, School Choice in Urban America combines survey research with qualitative case studies to explore the largely misunderstood nature of school choice, the teaching and learning context in magnet schools, and the paradoxical consequences of reshaping school communities for purposes of attaining racial diversity and equity.
Coauthor Ellen Goldring is a recognized scholar in the area of educational administration. Her specific research has focused on school organization and administrative theory, and she has published in the field of parent choice, school leadership, and organizational theory, both in the United States and internationally. Claire Smrekar, who, like Goldring, also holds a doctorate in educational administration, has conducted extensive research in the areas of the social context and organization of schools with specific reference to family-school-community interactions in public, nonpublic, and choice schools.
The interpretive text and explicatory focus of School Choice in Urban America draw from the widely existing theories associated with school-choice debates. The authors compare and contrast the predicted and actual consequences of school choices in urban districts. Rational choice, institutional, and market theories provide viable foundations for the authors to review the numerous assertions regarding the predicted dynamics of magnet school choice. Their book thus appears not to be about the choice-or-no-choice debate but rather to address the social responsibility issues surrounding the question: Given the essential character and quality of magnet school plans in urban school districts, can school-choice decision making be designed to enhance equity and community in all schools?
In this work, Smrekar and Goldring call attention to the disturbing evidence of increasing resegregation along class lines as well as the loss of community and rootedness that once bound schools and neighborhoods in a sense of shared space and shared values. They also focus on the troubling lack of active and frequent parent involvement in schools of choice. The conceptual proposals linked to free-market arguments and institutionalization are examined alongside the viewpoints commonly expressed by parents, teachers, and principals. Notwithstanding, the experiences and expectations of teachers, parents, and principals are at the center of the authors' thought-provoking analyses as they caution educators and policymakers responsible for implementing magnet school plans to carefully scrutinize the way in which magnet school plans are constructed.
School Choice in Urban America begins by outlining key policy arguments and research findings in the area of school choice, with specific references to the implications for families, communities, and schools. …