AERA 2012: Parents’ Perspectives on Privatizing Trends in Education

American Educational Research Association

Apr 15, 14:15-15:45h

Patricia Burch and Rudolfo Acosta (Univ of Southern California)

“Where Do I Go? Parents’ Perspectives on Privatizing Trends in Education”

Introduction and Rationale: There are dramatic changes underway in the Federal role in increasing access and opportunity for students living in poverty. On the one hand, the federal government has become increasingly proactive in directing instruction at the Federal, state and local levels. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act (the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) tied federal funding for economically disadvantaged communities to test score performance and introduced progressive sanctions for schools. Standing partially in tension with this centralization, private engagement in the governance and administration of public education is expanding and evolving.

Central Arguments: In this paper, the authors make six central arguments about the ways in which the role and influence of for profit firms in k-12 public education is changing.

  1. Large corporations—and the laws that protect them—increasingly drive how and what the public learns about education.
  2. With government programs being slashed, companies are turning to new money sources in order to expand.
  3. Education companies are using relationships with school districts to get teachers, students and parents hooked on their products.
  4. For profits are pushing legal boundaries by using not for profits as marketing arms.
  5. When it comes to private sector involvement in public education, there is no accountability
  6. The changes described follow a general pattern. However, whether and how government agencies and private industry trade places varies depending on the setting and what is being sold.

Methods: This research is part of an ongoing multisite mixed methods study on the implementation and impact of supplementary education services. Data were collected from five urban school districts representing a variety of student demographics in: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Austin and Dallas, Texas. This paper draws on findings from the qualitative portion of the study specifically aimed at analyzing which factors influence parent or student choices in selecting supplemental education providers. Data collected consists of focus groups with parents (n=174) of students eligible to receive and/or currently receiving supplementary services. Two focus groups, approximately 1.5 hours each took place at each of the sites with translation offered in Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. The racial and ethnic demographics of parents consisted of the following: White, Latino, African American, African, Asian, Biracial, Native American, Multiracial, or other. Parents in the sample had children eligible for services in elementary, middle, or high school. To delineate the social construction of parents as the targets of policy, a textual analysis of the federal NCLB policy concerning the implementation of supplementary services was used.

Contributions: The paper provides voice for perspective of those at the receiving line of privatization, in particular students with disabilities and English language learners. Based on these voices, we identify the core issues that policymakers must wrestle with if current forms of privatization are to strengthen ties between parents and schools. We also show how Federal education policy has helped to legitimize these changes.

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