Making the Invisible Visible: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Women and Families Choosing Elementary Schools in Seattle
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School choice is an education reform fueled by parents. Knowing what parents are looking for in schools and how they make choices is essential for researchers and policy makers to understand whether school choice will indeed improve educational outcomes. While many researchers have investigated parental preferences in school choice, very few have sought to understand how gender and intra-family dynamics shape school preferences and the choice process. This mixed methods study investigated school choice amongst active, first time elementary school choosers in Seattle using interviews with eight mothers over the course of the six month choosing process and a survey of 70 choosers. The findings suggest that school choice is women’s work. Mothers bear the brunt of school choice activities, engage their mom networks (including preschools) to gather information, and grapple with difficult questions about family priorities and personal values in relation to schools. Parents express ambivalence about the use of test scores to measure school quality and interest in more holistic notions of education. Most parents have difficulty “seeing” their preferences in action given the available information about schools. Amongst these mostly well-educated, middle class women, school choice can be seen as part of an effort towards concerted cultivation and advancement and also as a space for debate and consideration of larger political and ideological concerns about the nature of schooling.
- Education - Seattle