If you’re a middle-class parent in Boston, the question inevitably occurs: Should I raise my family in the city or abscond to the suburbs, where the public schools are a more certain bet? Anecdotally, it seems that increasingly parents are choosing to stay, and a new study based on in-depth interviews with Boston parents begins to explain why.
Sociologists Chase Billingham and Shelley McDonough Kimelberg of Northeastern interviewed 32 middle-class parents with kids enrolled in the Boston Public Schools. Many of them lived in the city’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods—Jamaica Plain, the North End, South Boston, the Fenway, Charlestown—and all of them had the means to leave once their children reached school-age.
Instead they decided to give the BPS a shot. And, as the interviews reveal, the decision was based largely on the belief that, through major investments of time and money, they could shape their local elementary schools into the kinds of places they wanted their kids to attend.
Urban public school systems are famously intractable, and it’s hard to believe that against such sprawling bureaucracies, parental initiative can make much of a difference. But, as the authors explain, the parents they interviewed do much more than organize bake sales and chaperone field trips. They also guide strategic planning and curriculum development, sit on hiring committees, recruit other middle-class families into their schools, and write grants (including one that pays for a second kindergarten teaching assistant).