Background Materials on Inequality, Organizing, Critical Pedagogy and School Reform


"Weekend Reading" is a place for teachers and anyone interested in education policy to find an annotated set of videos, blog posts, newspaper articles and academic papers on a particular topic to do with the privatization of education, race in schools, and the fight for democracy in education.  

Trujillo, T. (2012, June 14). The Paradoxical Logic of School Turnarounds: A Catch-22. Teachers College Record. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from ID

MacGillis, A. (2016). The Third Rail: Transit, Race and Inequality in BaltimorePlaces. (Natalia)

Redefining "Public” Education: Charter Schools, Common Schools, and the Rhetoric of School Reform, Chris Lubienski, 2001, TCR

This interesting article in Teachers’ College Record discusses the rhetoric of school reform.  Specifically, the article traces the roots of how “public” in relation to education was defined by Horace Mann as he envisioned the common school, and how that definition has been changed by the charter school movement as a means to break down the distinction between public and private and replace it with a distinction between “government” and “independent”—all with public money.  The new public means: open to the public, paid for by the public, and accountable to some public authority.  It also includes “mission-driven” or academic focus as a new term that is meant to replace the common good or democratic values as the centerpiece of the school.  The key here is in setting a new kind of opposition in which the institution of public schooling is now called “government schooling” and is only one part of the concept of public.  

The new definition of public education advanced by charter school proponents changes the demand for equity from one of resources intended to provide equal educational opportunities or outcomes to one that permits families the equal opportunity to seek access to the more desirable schools.

This de facto privatization of the purpose of public education encourages citizens to view themselves as consumers of an educational product, maximizing self-interest in competition with other consumers for desirable opportunities. (p. 660)

Parent and Community Organizing Pays Off

In Florida, parents organized against a proposed "parent trigger" bill, recognizing that handing over control of schools to for-profit and less-regulated charter organizations isn't how you fix struggling schools. The parent mobilizing was so successful in influencing the public debate that the bill was ultimately voted down. Even one of the bill's sponsors voted against it in the end.

Urban Community Control: What We Can Learn From the Suburban Experience

This article teaches urban school control from a suburban model.

Community Schools

A webpage that explains community schools (Helen)

It is important that we break apart the concept of community schools vs community control.  What does the webpage make you feel?  How much is about empowerment vs service?

Funding (Helen)

This webpage describes the 12 recommendations that a group of grassroots organizations made to Detroit funders.  It is useful in that it establishes what it means to really support grassroots work, as opposed to “astroturfing.”

Charter Schools

There are vast numbers of articles on this topic, so we are only choosing a few.  We are not attempting to directly take on the issue of charter schools, but it helps to be able to answer the question that might come up: “Why not just make more charter schools?” or “Why can’t we start a charter school?” or “Why not make all schools into charters?”   The simple answers to these questions might go something like this:

  1. We have evidence from cities that have tried to convert all schools to charters.  New Orleans is now moving back from all charters to a more public system.  A purely charter district is chaotic and unfair.  Choice depends on whether you have a car, time to transport, and time to apply.

  2. Charters often cost more and syphon off kids from other schools.

  3. We need to make the public system work, not go around it with private solutions. (This was the strong advice from Jitu Brown in Chicago)


Apple, M. W. (2006). Educating the “right” way: Markets, standards, “God” and inequality. New York: Routledge Falmer. (Helen)

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library- email us at to check out the book

Also available on Amazon

The ideal citizen is the “CONSUMER”.   “Rather than democracy being a political concept, it is transformed into a wholly economic concept” (p. 39)  Apple is one of the leading scholars of critical pedagogy (which looks at power relationships in our education system).  He’s a good person to quote if you are writing a paper and since he is somewhat repetitive, you only need to read a chapter or two.

The History of Race in Baltimore’s Schools

A Beautiful Struggle by Ta Nehesi Coates (Helen)

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library - email us at to check out the book

Also available on Amazon

There is one section in this excellent book where Coates writes about his daily journey to Lemmel from his home near Mondawmin Mall.  It provides a good starting point for discussing the role of teachers and parents in understanding and helping students navigate the daily transition from home to school.

Brown in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the LImits of Liberalism by Howell S. Baum (Helen)

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library - email us at to check out the book

Also available on Amazon

The introduction to Baum’s book provides a useful way to understand the relationship between “choice” and liberal politics. Race is not even visible to the liberal.

Black Social Capital by Marion Orr.  (Helen)

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library - email us at to check out the book

Also available on Amazon

Orr’s history of the politics of school reform in Baltimore from 1986 to 1998 is an excellent resource because of the detailed history of Baltimore that ties together schools, superintendents, community groups, the BTU, demographics, and a deep analysis of what was happening as the school system was handed over to black control in the 1960s.  The historical statistics (in the form of charts, tables and facts woven into the narrative) chronicled in the book, in fact, stretch back to the 1930s.  In combination with a social history such as Jo Ann Robinson’s Education is My Agenda which includes an oral history of Gertrude William’s principalship at Barclay, Orr’s book provides a wealth of background for understanding our current educational dilemmas and challenges in Baltimore.  Ostensibly, the book is based on a theory of social capital.  The main thesis is that black social capital has a long and powerful history in Baltimore, but that isolated from the rest of the political power base it is not powerful enough to create the concerted effort required to reform schools.  The idea of whether black social capital should be used as a power base unto itself or in collaboration with mainstream white social capital is hotly contested, particularly at a time when youth in Baltimore are rising up to demand to be heard.  However, whether or not readers find this framework useful, the book can also be read as a straight up and very useful history.

Education is My Agenda By JoAnn Robinson (Helen)

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library - email us at to check out the book

Also available on Amazon

This is a fascinating read because it combines the whole history of Baltimore Schools, the succession of superintendents, and all the efforts at community control as they evolved over the past 60 years, along with a personal account of a Black teacher/principal who arrived in Baltimore when there was real pride in Black schools and stayed for a long, long time fully believing in children and ultimately learning how to be political to get what she needed.  I recommend picking some chapters depending on your interest.

DiConte’s PhD Thesis: Interest Groups and Educational Reform looks at Baltimore’s efforts at decentralization of power. (Helen) We have one copy of this, but we can make copies of chapters.

DiConte’s case study of Baltimore’s effort to decentralize schools in the 1980s provides some of the background to Baltimore’s partial adoption of neoliberal policies. BUILD and the Greater Baltimore Committee pursued an anti-bureaucratic strategy in educational policy for almost a decade, starting in 1982.  The purpose was to strengthen the mechanisms of private sector voice in running public schools. She chronicles the start of public school choice movement using a case study of the first steps taken toward consumer choice in Minnesota and compares the choice (or “exit” approach, as she terms it) to the school based management movement (or “voice” approach, her coining) using a case study of Baltimore City Schools.  What is most interesting about her thesis (besides the details of the interplay of interest groups in influencing the direction of school reform) is the way in which she juxtaposes “exit” and “voice” as two competing factions in the more generalized battle to dismantle the “one system” of bureaucratically organized schools.  (Tyack) We have to remember that for radical school reform advocates, the bureaucracy, and its inequitable ways of distributing resources and marginalizing communities of color, was also the enemy.  The “exit” and “voice” movements, at least on the surface, had a common concern: to tear apart the nineteenth century “common school” system.  For the “exit” contingent, the reason for getting inside and breaking apart what they considered a monopoly was to funnel the education dollars into the market and allow competition to improve efficiency.  For the “voice” contingent, the reason for attacking central bureaucracy was to empower parts of the population that had been historically relegated to second and third class status based on race and income.  (Bowles and Gintis) Common enemy, but different purposes. (Still true today, but with different twists)

The Culture of School and the Culture of Change by Sarason (1972) (Helen)  

Available in the Teachers' Democracy Project Library - email us at to check out the book

It is interesting to consider a text such as Sarason’s, originally published in 1971 and again in 1982.    He is considering the process of school change: how it does happen and how it does not happen.  Going back to studies like this one that draw from a knowledge base as it existed in the 70s, 80s and 90s we can look at the type of language being used, the type of challenges the researchers identify, and the assumptions about the purpose of education and who “owns” the schools.  Since the 1990s the tenor of discussion around school reform has shifted so radically towards the business model and toward business-derived metrics, that it is helpful to get back to what we used to discuss before public education was hijacked by market interests.

Max Weber's Economy and Society: A Critical Companion - Click here to download

Max Weber's Economy and Society is widely considered the most important single work in sociology and among the most important in the history of the social sciences. This volume provides a critical and up-to-date introduction to Weber's magnum opus. While much has been published about the various parts ofEconomy and Society, this is the first book to cover all of its major sections and themes, as well as to discuss the methodological vision that unites them.

In Max Weber's Economy and Society, a distinguished group of scholars illuminates the central arguments of Economy and Society and appraises their contemporary relevance for the analysis of the economy, the polity, law, religion, and social action. With essays that are both theoretical and empirical, this book will be of interest to those already familiar with Weber's work and to those encountering it for the first time.