talk at the playground: the neighborhood context for school choice

Studies of school choice have shown how families rely on informal information about schools to decide where to apply. Yet, too often studies have overlooked how neighborhood settings shape what informal information parents acquire about schools. As a result, even as school choice policies have attempted to decouple school enrollment from neighborhood residence, it is possible that neighborhood dynamics may influence school selection. In this paper, we use qualitative interviews with white, urban, middle-class parents to illuminate the role of neighborhood interactions in parents’ search for a good school. We show that parents relied heavily on relationships they developed during routine daily interactions in neighborhood spaces, especially playgrounds, to find out information about school options for their young children. In the process of choosing, we find parents’ disagreements in strategies created tension in friendships as some parents sought to use their neighborhood school while others chose to send their children elsewhere. These intense relationships and their consequences on school choice suggest the need for more attention to the significance of place on the social construction of school options for young, urban children.

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