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  • Mary Pattillo (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding Author: Professor Mary Pattillo, Department of Sociology, 1810 Chicago Avenue, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208. E-mail:
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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  • EISSN: 1742-0598
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