By Perry Stein – Washington Post // September 20, 2019
Mike Dixon left his first visit to his son’s new school deflated. The Dixons had scored a seat at a Chinese-language charter school in the District that families clamor to attend.
His children would be attending a diverse public school — a rarity in a city where most schools are segregated and the student population is overwhelmingly black.
But when Dixon attended a school open house in 2012, he was one of the few black parents in the room. And when he returned for an evening parent meeting, he was again one of the only black parents. He believed he didn’t belong, so he stopped attending.
As cities across the country gentrify — and schools in those cities slowly begin to diversify — communities are struggling to ensure that all parents have an equal voice. Parent organizations have emerged as a striking, and consequential, example of the cultural, economic and language divides among families.
For Dixon, it felt as if parents were vetting him at those first two meetings, determining whether he should be there.
“It was kind of like this is our space, and we need to ask some qualifying questions: Where do you live, where do you come from? And you can feel that,” said Dixon, a native Washingtonian. “It’s challenging as a black father because there is less power — at least perceived — in the school.”
Parents of color have long spoken of feeling alienated from parent organizations — many schools in low-income neighborhoods do not even have formal parent groups. And drastic fundraising disparities between parent groups at schools in wealthy neighborhoods and those in lower-income areas have been extensively researched.
Now, a small but growing number of researchers and organizations are focused on what happens within these parent organizations at schools in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Their findings: White and wealthy families often enter predominantly black and Hispanic schools, assume leadership roles and push for what’s best for their children — not always realizing that it may not be what’s best for the entire student body, according to Alexandra Freidus, an educational ethnographer at Seton Hall University.
They believe more students should attend neighborhood schools. But what happens when it’s their child?
Parents across all demographic groups care fervently about their children’s education, but, Freidus said, families have varying amounts of time and resources.
There are also tangible consequences to who holds these leadership positions. Freidus, whose research focuses on gentrifying New York schools, said she frequently observes parent-teacher organizations invest money in lower grades. Those are the grades that often see the biggest jump in affluent and white enrollment in historically low-income neighborhoods.