Voices in Education

Black Parents’ Impossible “Choices”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on P–20 education cannot be overstated, yet Black parents’ quest to find a “good” school is a perennial dilemma. Black parents constantly challenge anti-Black practices in public, private, and charter schools, and are increasingly considering the utility of choice programs or the affordances of homeschooling. In fact, amidst rampant concerns about how virtual or hybrid learning affects Black children, many Black families are reconsidering schooling altogether, transitioning to private schools, or trying out homeschooling. As before, Black parents do not have any ideal options: some want their children physically in schools and others see the racialized benefits of keeping their children at home. While parents across the country are now tasked with balancing their jobs and educating their children at home, Black parents have long felt the burden of having to be hypervigilant about what their children learn and experience in school and/or reeducating their children. Why must Black parents always make impossible choices regarding their children’s well-being and their education?

In the wake of desegregation and ongoing presence of anti-Black racism in schools—such as low expectations, racial microaggressions, and the racialized disciplining and criminalization of Black children—Black parents grapple with the “no-win” choices of placing their children at schools that are culturally affirming or academically rigorous. They weigh whether the neighborhood school or the school outside of their school zone offers the best educational opportunity for their children. They worry about API scores, AP courses, and SAT scores, and are also concerned about diversity of the curriculum, the school’s racial climate, and the extent and types of racial representation among teachers, staff, and students. They do not want an “either/or” education, they want a “both/and” education; but are forced to make racialized tradeoffs. Black parents wrestle with these compromises when their children start school and everyday thereafter to maximize the educational and personal benefits and well-being of their children. These consequential choices are based on ongoing risk assessments regarding the potential for racialized harm in their children’s schooling and their continuous decision-making about whether to keep their children enrolled or move them to a different school.

No matter the social class, geographic location, school type, or grade level of their children, Black parents’ school choice decisions are influenced by race and anti-Black racism and the very real concern of placing their children in unwelcoming environments. Black parents are proactive in looking for a “good” school, and know too well that they can never be complacent. They must always be on watch and constantly (re)assess the needs, well-being, and schooling experiences of their children. It is a perennial dilemma: to fight for the best for your child while being conscious of the very real possibility that you may be simultaneously harming them in other ways.

How would you decide? What would you give up? What would you prioritize? Finally, the broader question is: Why do Black parents have to always make impossible choices?

About the Author: Raquel M. Rall is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of California, Riverside. Her research is concentrated in two major areas: leadership and governance of higher education and equity. Maxine McKinney de Royston is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research analyzes the pedagogical and interactional characteristics of learning environments as they relate to larger discourses about race, racism, identity, and power. Alea R. Holman is an assistant professor of school psychology in the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University. Her scholarship examines mothers’ gendered racial socialization beliefs and practices with their Black and mixed-race children. Linn Posey-Maddox is an associate professor of educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research examines how social inequities linked to race, class, and place shape the school and community experiences of parents, students, and teachers and how individuals and groups contribute to the production, reproduction, or challenge of educational inequities in their choices and everyday actions. Rachel A. Johnson is a PhD candidate in the department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research examines Black parents’ varied engagement and advocacy in schools and the experiences of Black homeschooling families in the Midwest.

Raquel M. Rall, Maxine McKinney de Royston, Alea R. Holman, Linn Posey-Maddox, and Rachel A. Johnson are the authors of “No Choice Is the 'Right' Choice” in the Spring 2021 issue of Harvard Educational Review.