In the United States, state and federal reforms increasingly encourage the expansion of school choice policies. Debates about school choice contrast various concepts of freedom and equality with concerns about equity, justice, achievement, democratic accountability, profiting management organizations, and racial and class segregation. Arizona’s “market”-based school choice programs include over 600 charter schools, and the state’s open enrollment practices, public and private school tax credit allowances, and Empowerment Scholarships, (closely related to vouchers), flourish. This qualitative analysis explores one district-run public school and its surrounding community, and I discuss socio-political and cultural tensions related to school choice reforms that exist within the larger community. This community experienced school changes, including demographic shifts, lowered test scores, failed overrides, and the opening of high-profile charter school organizations near the school.


Educational Policy, Social and Cultural Contexts, Ethnographic Methods, School Choice, Charter Schools, Educational Reform, Competition

Author Bio(s)

Amanda U. Potterton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky. Her research and teaching interests include the politics of school choice, charter schools, privatization and public education, and the justice-related implications of these policies for students living in poverty, for students with special education needs, and for students who are English language learners. Amanda’s current research agenda focuses on how public school stakeholders, including parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and other community members, interpret and experience school choice policies and practices in local settings. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., she was a New York City Teaching Fellow and taught special education in New York City, and she was a teacher and school leader in the United Kingdom. Amanda holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Evaluation from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: amanda.potterton@uky.edu.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Education Research Association’s Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., from April 7th-12th, 2016. I would like to thank the Politics of Education Association SIG for their sponsorship and support in presenting a version of this paper, Lora Cohen-Vogel, who guided the discussion and provided feedback during the session, and other participants in the session. I would like to thank Jeanne Powers for her assistance with this manuscript, and Gustavo Fischman, David Berliner, and Gene Glass for their ongoing support and feedback related to this project. I would also like to thank Nina Buchanan for her helpful suggestions whilst preparing this manuscript.

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