How do High-Status Parents Choose Schools? Evidence from a Choice District
Lopez Turley, Ruth
Master of Arts
One premise of contemporary school choice is that parents largely use academic quality indicators – loosely referred to as “accountability data” – to choose schools. This premise does not sufficiently account for the role of other mechanisms in parents’ decision-making that have been emphasized by other scholars, such as racial prejudice or network information. This project aims to highlight the mechanisms which are most important in the school choice narratives of high-status parents in a large, southern city. This population was sampled because of their above-average economic capital and social privilege and their capacity to access and use accountability data, which increase their ability to navigate school and residential markets. Participant data from in-depth, qualitative interviews highlight alternatives to the assumption that parents primarily or exclusively use accountability data to choose where to send their children to school. Specifically, parents’ color-blind “cultural logics,” which include collective ideals, constructs, and stereotypes about race, emerge as key elements in parents’ school choices and how they later explain those choices. A discussion of the data will suggest that these collective mechanisms are meaningful for parent choice, and may have unintended consequences for school choice programs within racially diverse and segregated districts.