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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Racial Isolation, Poverty and the Limits of Local Control as a Means for Holding Public Schools Accountable


Drawing on research in Oakland, California over a twenty-year period, Noguera considers how poverty and racial isolation have contributed to the problems confronted by schools in that district and other inner-city communities around the state. He illuminates the factors that hinder the development of social capital in low-income communities, and, in doing so, demonstrates why local control does not make it easier for school systems to address the academic needs of poor students. The wide variation in the ability of different communities to generate revenue and other support for schools at the local level creates inequalities in the learning conditions and opportunities that schools provide students. The design of the state’s public education system exacerbates these inequities. Specifically, the state’s current approaches to local control make it possible for advantaged parents and communities with a vested interest in the affairs of public schools to monitor conditions in their schools. However, this form of local control is inadequate as a mechanism for holding schools accountable in high poverty areas. Noguera concludes that in order to improve reform efforts and policy implementation, the state must enact measures to mitigate the effects of poverty and racial isolation. Rather than presuming that all schools can be treated the same, the state must develop strategies to build the social capital of parents and cultivate the civic capacity of communities in low-income areas. Without such measures, local control will remain little more than a guise through which the State can shirk its responsibility for insuring that all students have access to quality education.

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