Everyday politics of school choice in the black community

Mary Pattillo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


School choice is promoted as one strategy to improve educational outcomes for African Americans. Key themes in Black school choice politics are empowerment, control, and agency. Using qualitative interviews with seventy-seven poor and working-class Black parents in Chicago, this article asks: How well do the themes of empowerment, agency, and control characterize the experiences of low-income African American parents tasked with putting their children in schools? Also, what kind of political positions emerge from parents' everyday experiences given the ubiquitous language of school choice? I find that in their own recounting parents focused on finding a quality school while experiencing numerous barriers to accessing such schools; parents expressed experiential knowledge of being chosen, rather than choosing; and parents highlighted the opacity, uncertainty, and burden of choice, even when they participated in it quite heartily. I argue that their stories convey limited and weak empowerment, limited individual agency, and no control. Their perspectives conjure policy frameworks and political ideologies that require a discussion of entitlements and provision, rather than choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-71
Number of pages31
JournalDu Bois Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2015


  • Black Politics
  • Charter Schools
  • Chicago
  • Education
  • Public Schools
  • School Choice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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