Compete or Close

Compete or Close Traditional Neighborhood Schools Under Pressure

Julia A. McWilliams, Foreword by Maia Cucchiara
paper, 224 Pages
Pub. Date: May 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-312-3
Price: $32.00

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cloth, 224 Pages
Pub. Date: May 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1-68253-313-0
Price: $62.00

Add to Cart

In districts from Chicago to New York to Washington, DC, neighborhood public schools are being forced to compete with charter schools for students and resources, often under the threat of school closure. In Compete or Close, Julia A. McWilliams provides a compelling ethnographic study of one such school, a neighborhood high school in Philadelphia—a district where rising privatization and chronic underfunding cast these common tensions into sharp relief. The book poses two questions: What strategies do schools deploy to minimize market risk and signal their value to stakeholders—district administrators, funders, parents, and students? And how do these strategies conflict with the schools’ mission to serve all children?


With richly textured, compassionate, and unflinching prose, McWilliams exposes the dire consequences of market-oriented reforms for black and brown students. In its riveting story of one Philadelphia neighborhood high school’s fight to survive, Compete or Close reveals the complex interactions of scarcity, competition, and institutional racism at the human, school, state, and national levels. — Jolley Bruce Christman, founder, Research for Action

In Compete or Close, McWilliams takes a nuanced and empathetic look at the challenges and trade-offs public schools face in an increasingly competitive environment. Through an in-depth portrayal of one school community’s experience of school choice and competition, she illuminates how market-driven reforms can reproduce and even exacerbate structural inequities when schools compete on an uneven playing field. Given the likely continuation of, and perhaps escalation of, school choice policies, this book provides a necessary counternarrative to the dominant views about markets in education. — Huriya Jabbar, assistant professor, Education Policy and Planning, University of Texas at Austin

Those outside of schools who have an interest in the state of public education, or, more importantly, who are in a position to shape education policy, can turn to Compete or Close to hear voices of educators to best understand the full impact of market-based education policies. — David R. Garcia, Teachers College Record

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About the Author

Julia A. McWilliams is an educational anthropologist and faculty member in the Critical Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published journal articles on urban education reform, the effects of school choice, public school closures, and immigrant and refugee education.

Table of Contents


Blog Post: "Educator Solidarities over Competition: Lessons from 2018"

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