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Parental Challenges to Organizational

Authority in an Elite School District:

The Role of Cultural, Social, and Symbolic

University of Pennsylvania

SUNY College at Brockport


University of Pennsylvania

Background/Context: Most research on “elite” schools has focused on the private sector.
However, as a result of economic residential segregation, a number of public school districts
exist which may plausibly be construed as socioeconomically elite. Districts of this sort remain
relatively understudied. In particular, few researchers have noted the fact that the same mech-
anism that concentrates substantial wealth in elite districts—the real estate market—also
tends to concentrate substantial noneconomic resources.
Purpose/Objective: Our paper examines the consequences of the abundance of cultural,
social, and symbolic capital held by parents in one elite district, which we call Kingsley.
During the period in which we collected data, the district administration sought to re-draw
attendance boundaries for the two high schools in Kingsley. We show how shifting coalitions
of parents made use of the full range of available resources in opposing, or in some instances
supporting, district officials’ plans.
Research Design, Data Collection, and Analysis: We carried out a qualitative case study of
the year-long redistricting process. Our data include copies of letters and emails sent to the
district during the redistricting process, transcriptions of all school board meetings that took
place during the process, and over 1,800 postings to two online discussion boards devoted
to the process. These data were systematically coded by the research team. We also draw on
articles in the press, observational data, and interviews for background information.

Teachers College Record Volume 120, 010303, January 2018, 46 pages

Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Findings/Results: District administrators were subject to a torrent of “data” and “research find-
ings” that parents used to criticize the district’s proposed plans. Parents frequently employed
their professional expertise to directly challenge arguments put forth by officials in order to justify
proposed policies. Furthermore, they drew on elaborate interpersonal networks in order to pool
complementary forms of expertise and to mobilize large numbers of like-minded residents. Behind
their challenges lay a sense of entitlement that rendered them unwilling to defer to the author-
ity of the administration to make decisions concerning the needs of the system. While no single
criticism was decisive, the ongoing challenges to proposed policies forced the district into a per-
manently defensive posture, resulting in a reduction of the board’s ability to use its own expert
knowledge to decide which institutional policies would best serve students’ needs.
Conclusions/Recommendations: We suggest that elite districts may be prone to a distinctive
type of conflict between residents and policymakers. As economic segregation increases, it is
possible that more districts will experience these challenges.

The link between economic segregation and the characteristics of pub-

lic schools is one that has been widely commented on. Analyses of this
link frequently focus on the consequences of the United States’ system
of school funding. Because school districts—which are often geographi-
cally quite small—depend heavily on the ability and willingness of their
residents to pay taxes, the resources available to schools are significantly
affected by residents’ wealth and income. Disparities in the resources de-
voted to public schools, in turn, may affect the quality of teachers and
administrators, instructional materials and equipment, and school facili-
ties (Clotfelter, Ladd, Vigdor, & Wheeler, 2007; Phillips & Chin, 2004),
leading to disparate outcomes among children.
Research indicates that economic segregation has grown substantially
in recent years, with public school district boundaries as a key geographic
feature underlying this segregation (Owens, 2016; see also Mayer, 2002).
This trend implies a possible increase in districts that could be described
as “elite”—that is, districts in which the majority of residents are afflu-
ent, creating an ample tax base from which to fund high-quality public
schools. Districts of this sort remain largely understudied in the literature.
In particular, while some researchers (Brantlinger, 2003; Demerath, 2009)
have analyzed various aspects of their internal dynamics, relatively little at-
tention has been paid to the full range of features of elite districts.
Our paper seeks to fill this gap in the literature by reporting on a qual-
itative study carried out in one such district. This district underwent a
contentious process of redistricting, during which substantial numbers of
parents mobilized to contest or support proposed policy changes. We doc-
ument the exceptional noneconomic resources that the parents made use
of, and we show how the result of their mobilization was a temporary, but
nonetheless significant, limitation of the district’s policy-making capacity.

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

On the basis of this case study, we suggest that elite schools and school
districts contain an inherent potential for conflict—in particular, between
residents and officials, including educational administrators. The source
of this potential lies in one of their “structural” features: the same mecha-
nism that concentrates substantial wealth in small geographic areas—the
real estate market—also tends to concentrate substantial cultural, social,
and symbolic capital. Consequently, we argue, residents of these districts
possess an array of resources that may be sufficient to obstruct the inten-
tions of school and district officials. The result, at least in extreme cases,
can be institutional paralysis.1

Parental Involvement in Education and

Parental Resources

The argument we develop here most closely intersects the established

literature on parents’ involvement in education. Stretching over many
decades, this research has highlighted an array of mechanisms through
which parents can positively contribute to children’s educational success.
This literature is vast, encompassing nearly all dimensions of the inter-
section between family and school. Thus, for example, researchers have
examined ways in which parents may directly facilitate their children’s
learning, such as through assisting with homework or enforcing pro-ed-
ucational behavior norms outside of the school (Booth & Dunn, 1996;
Patall, Harris, & Robinson, 2008). There has also been significant study
of parental communication with teachers and other school officials, as
well as parental involvement in school functions (Epstein, 2011; Hoover-
Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Valdes, 1996). Much of this literature suggests
that parental involvement is especially beneficial for low-income children
and argues that increasing parental involvement should constitute at least
one prong of any strategy aimed at reducing class gaps in educational
achievement (e.g., Comer & Haynes, 1991; U.S. Department of Education,
2001; Warren & Mapp, 2011).
In response to this research, however, a thread has developed within
the literature that focuses on what Lareau (2000) calls “the dark side
of parent involvement.” Research in this tradition contends that parent
involvement may have negative consequences as well as positive ones.
Lareau documents, for example, how the high rate of parent involve-
ment in a predominantly upper-middle-class school resulted in higher
levels of stress among children, triggered intrafamilial conflict, and
caused persistent friction between parents and teachers. More recently,
a number of researchers have described ways that parents (generally
upper-middle-class) carry out surveillance of teachers (Addi-Raccah &

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Arviv-Elyashiv, 2008; Hassrick & Schneider, 2009) and principals (Lareau

& Munoz, 2012)—practices which educators experience as a constraint
on their professional autonomy. Researchers have also documented ways
in which highly resourced parents are able to subvert organizational pol-
icies on behalf of their children—as when, for example, a mother is able
to gain admission to a school’s gifted program for a child whose test re-
sults were insufficient (Lareau, 2011). In these studies, parents’ advocacy
has the effect of exempting their children from rules whose legitimacy
rests on their uniform application.
Most research on parent involvement has examined its impact—whether
positive or negative—on children’s educational experiences at the individ-
ual level, rather than its effect on the functioning of the school district as a
whole. However, some studies have focused on the ways in which groups of
parents organize interventions around educational policies. For instance,
researchers have analyzed parental engagement in political activities such
as protesting tracking programs or school closures (Brantlinger, 2003;
Lipman & Person, 2007; Martinez-Cosio, 2010; McGrath & Kuriloff, 1999;
Oakes, Wells, & Jones, 1997). Similarly, researchers have examined the
factors leading to parental mobilization around various types of school
reform (Nettles, 1991; Williams, 1989) or in relation to busing and court
orders (Lukas, 1986; Rubin, 1972).
While unquestionably important, most of these studies focus on school
systems that primarily serve disadvantaged students; some are also fairly
dated, referring to earlier historical periods. Yet press reports suggest that
bitter battles sometimes occur between parents and educators in afflu-
ent districts today (Foster & Duffey, 2014; Johnson, 2009; “Parents Voice
Outrage,” 2004). Few scholars have asked exactly how the forces of parent
mobilization and intervention operate in elite public school districts, or
what their consequences may be for educational organizations.
Our paper addresses this gap by analyzing data from an elite district,
which we call Kingsley, that sought to re-draw high school attendance
boundaries. During a contentious process that lasted for the better part
of a school year, the various plans proposed by district administrators elic-
ited fierce opposition from shifting coalitions of parents. The process con-
sumed substantial district resources, resulting in multiple modifications
of the proposed plans, and requiring the district to defend itself in a sub-
sequent lawsuit (where it prevailed). Our paper documents the extensive
resources that parents drew on in the course of their confrontations with
the administration.
Of course, elite public school districts are unusual, by definition.
Nevertheless, these districts play an important and highly symbolic role,
for example, in providing a standard for the delivery of educational

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

services against which other districts are found to be wanting (Kozol,

2012). Moreover, many of the largest cities in the U.S. have at least one
district within their surrounding regions characterized by both high
levels of affluence and high levels of school spending (see Table 1 for
examples). Scholars have long noted the benefits that children enjoy
when enrolled in such districts (e.g., Bidwell & Kasarda, 1975); however,
they have neglected the organizational costs for educational administra-
tors that sometimes arise from the associated concentration of cultural,
social, and symbolic capital. Nor have they sufficiently developed an un-
derstanding of the collective consequences for school districts that can
emerge as parents in elite communities activate their forms of capital
(Bourdieu, 1986).
The school district we focus on, Kingsley, is notable for the wealth of its
residents and its educational expenditures. As we explain below, by con-
ventional measures such as Advanced Placement (AP) enrollments, stan-
dardized test scores, and college placements, its educational outcomes are
also exceptional. During the period in which we carried out observations,
Kingsley attempted to re-draw the attendance boundaries for its two high
schools. This action triggered significant backlash among large numbers
of residents. Importantly, the evidence suggests that the backlash was not
driven by concerns about academic quality at either of the high schools.
Instead, it centered around a variety of concerns including community co-
hesion, travel time to school, walkability, race, and environmental issues. A
significant number of parents entered into a confrontation that escalated
over a protracted period. During this period, parents were able to draw
on the professional expertise (an aspect of cultural capital) necessary to chal-
lenge the arguments of district professionals and the interpersonal networks
(an aspect of social capital) that enabled them to pool specific forms of
expertise and to mobilize a critical mass of district residents. In addition,
there were indications that behind some parents’ challenges lay a sense of
entitlement (an aspect of symbolic capital) that rendered them unwilling to
defer to the authority of the administration and the school board to make
decisions concerning the needs of the system.2
In what follows, after describing our research methods and data, we
sketch a portrait of Kingsley and recount the events that culminated in
plans to re-draw attendance boundaries, noting the key issues that mo-
tivated parents to mobilize and the ways in which the district sought to
manage the process. In our main analysis, we then delineate the ways
that parents drew on specific resources in order to contest these plans.
In particular, we focus first on parents’ deployment of expertise intended
to challenge the justifications put forward by the district and to support
alternative policy preferences, and second on the formation of networks

Table 1. Characteristics of Some Elite Public School Districts in the USa




Price Lunch


Median Home
Unique AP/IB

School District
Expenditure per

% White or Asian
% with Graduate/

% Free / Reduced-

Median Household
Average SAT /ACT

Newton Public (MA) $108,686 $685,400 91 39 $17,656 13:1 8 237/11 18 SAT: 1220
Scarsdale Union Free (NY) $238,000 $950,000 92 51 $23,517 11:1 0 315/47 17 SAT: 1284
Radnor Township (PA) $90,713 $621,499 94 34 $15,847 13:1 5 432/6 18 SAT: 1159 ACT: 24.5
Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Hinsdale Township HS
$150,024 $814,704 94 32 $15,467 16:1 0 235/6 25 ACT: 26.4
District 86 (IL)

Palo Alto Unified (CA) $118,989 $916,644 88 43 $13,411 18:1 9 152/29 19 SAT: 1289 ACT: 27.2
Mercer Island (WA) $119,000 $891,337 92 32 $9,711 20:1 2 559/14 19 SAT: 1189 ACT: 26.5
National $49,103 $221,800 68 11 $10,615 16:1 —- —- —- SAT: 1017 ACT: 21.1
All figures refer to specific years between 2009 and 2012 (except for the national SAT value, which is for 2008). We have omit-
ted indicators of which year each figure corresponds to in order to streamline the table. This information is available from the
authors upon request.
US News and World Report rankings of public high schools.
SAT averages are sums of math and critical reading scores (maximum possible value is 1600).
ACT averages are based on composite scores (maximum possible value is 36).
TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

connecting parents opposed to particular iterations of the plan. We also

attempt to characterize the general sense of prerogative that motivated
these actions—that is, the assumption that little or no deference was
owed the administration and school board on this issue. We conclude by
discussing the conceptual issues raised by the concentration of capitals
in elite districts and their implications with regard to the organizational
functioning of districts.

Research Methodology

The hallmark of ethnographic research is that it is emergent, and the con-

tours of this study reflect that truism. When the redistricting process be-
gan to take shape at Kingsley, the authors were involved in a study in the
district on how parents decided where to live and where to send their chil-
dren to school (Lareau, 2014; Weininger, 2014). We saw the redistricting
process as an opportunity to collect naturalistic data related to parents’ in-
terventions in educational processes, and so we obtained permission from
the Institutional Review Board to study this process as it unfolded.
There are three primary sources of data from which our conclusions are
drawn (Table 2). The first is emails and letters that the Kingsley School
District Superintendent and Board received from parents and community
members over a 6-month period during the redistricting process. The su-
perintendent, who had been appointed in the early stages of the conflict,
gave us permission to photocopy the hard copies of these emails and let-
ters. Although the district reported that it had received 8,000 emails and
letters, many of them were duplicates. In the end, there were 3,000 unique
emails or letters in the data set.
The second data source is verbatim transcripts of the 18 Kingsley School
District Board meetings that took place during the months in which the
redistricting process unfolded. These meetings consisted of public com-
ments from parents and other community members, presentations by
educational experts hired by the school board, and comments and discus-
sion among board members. The district posted video recordings of the
board meetings for viewing by those who had missed a meeting. We had
each of these recordings transcribed.
The third data source consists of postings on two online discussion
boards created in response to the redistricting process. We downloaded
more than 1,800 posts comprising more than 300 “conversations,” or
discussion threads, across the two online groups. Approximately 300
people (based on unique email addresses) participated in these con-
versations. (These posts are not accessible any longer through a typical
internet search.)

Table 2. Data Sources and Methods of Analysis
Primary Data Source Description Method of Analysis
Emails and letters ~3,000 unique emails and letters sent by After reading dozens of emails, letters, board meeting transcripts, and
sent to district office parents and other community mem- posts to two online discussion groups focused on the redistricting, we
bers to the Kingsley School District inductively developed a coding scheme (see Table A1).
Superintendent and/or Board during A team of research assistants coded a shared subset of documents and met
the redistricting process to discuss code usage until code use was reliable.
Each research assistant coded a subset of the remaining documents, and
the team of coders continued to meet regularly to discuss ambiguities and
discrepancies in the application of codes.
Posts to online dis- 2 online discussion groups After reading dozens of emails, letters, board meeting transcripts, and
cussion groups 300 conversation threads, with a total of posts to two online discussion groups focused on the redistricting, we
Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

1,800 messages posted inductively developed a coding scheme (see Table A1).
~300 unique parent participants (based A team of research assistants coded a shared subset of documents and met

on unique email addresses) to discuss code usage until code use was reliable.
Each research assistant coded a subset of the remaining documents, and
the team of coders continued to meet regularly to discuss ambiguities and
discrepancies in the application of codes.
Transcripts of school Transcripts of each of the 18 school After reading dozens of emails, letters, board meeting transcripts, and
board meetings board meetings devoted to the topic of posts to two online discussion groups focused on the redistricting, we
redistricting inductively developed a coding scheme (see Table A1).
Approximately 800 transcribed pages A team of research assistants coded a shared subset of documents and met
to discuss code usage until code use was reliable.
Each research assistant coded a subset of the remaining documents, and
the team of coders continued to meet regularly to discuss ambiguities and
discrepancies in the application of codes.
Background Data
Description Method of Analysis
Interviews Interviews (10) with: Read and re-read, but since we interviewed a range of actors in very differ-
Current superintendent ent positions, we did not see a uniform coding scheme as valuable. Instead
Former superintendent we noted themes by hand and searched for disconfirming evidence.
Administrative assistant to
School board member
Educational expert consulted by superin-
tendent and parents
Kingsley parents (5)

Fieldnotes from Observations at Kingsley schools, school Coded using inductively developed coding scheme (see Table A1).
observations board meetings, informal community
meetings, community events

Newspaper and tele- Collection of articles and television cov- Read and re-read, but not systematically coded.
vision coverage erage related to the redistricting issue
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Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

The emails and letters, board meeting transcripts, and discussion board
posts are the primary data for the paper. In addition to these primary
sources, we also collected background information, which included obser-
vations, interviews, and newspaper articles and television coverage related
to the redistricting process. We observed eight board meetings and a com-
munity fundraiser related to the redistricting process. At these events we
introduced ourselves as trying to learn more about the school community
and how parents decided where to live. We wrote detailed field notes after
each visit.
We also conducted in-depth interviews (90 minutes to 2 hours in length)
with both the outgoing and the incoming superintendents of Kingsley,
with the superintendent’s administrative assistant, and with a board mem-
ber elected after the redistricting process was complete. Additionally, we
interviewed an educational expert who had been consulted by parents
and by the superintendent. We also interviewed five parents who were
involved in the redistricting process. We recruited these parents at the
redistricting board meetings, at a “pizza dinner” fundraiser, and by seek-
ing referrals from other parents. In these parent interviews, we gained
additional insight into parents’ motivations for being active in the redis-
tricting process, how much time they devoted to the process, and the ways
in which they drew on their professional expertise. Since the emails and
letters, meeting transcripts, and discussion board posts offered a more
comprehensive portrait of parents’ involvement in the redistricting pro-
cess, in our analysis we relied on them more heavily than the interviews.
After reading the emails, letters, meeting transcripts, and discussion
board posts, we developed a coding scheme to capture key themes with-
in and across these data sources. (See Tables A1 and A2 for the coding
scheme and sample coded excerpts). The data from each of these sources
were coded systematically with a vigorous search for disconfirming evi-
dence. For example, we looked closely for claims that the high schools at
the center of the redistricting plans were different in quality, particularly
academic quality. In order to develop consistency and agreement across
the codes, we met weekly as a team to discuss codes or data excerpts about
which we had disagreements or questions. The coding was primarily done
by undergraduate and graduate research assistants who were closely su-
pervised by the third author.3
Due to concerns about protecting the confidentiality of the school dis-
trict, in some descriptions of the district we have omitted identifying infor-
mation (including the time period of our research) or have made minor
modifications that do not bear on the substance of the results. All names
are pseudonyms.

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Kingsley District: The Context of Parents’ Actions

The incoming superintendent described Kingsley as “the premier school

district in the state.” He also referred to it as a “destination district”—that
is, one to which parents move in order to have their children attend the
public schools. This characterization was echoed in our interviews with
parents and in the speeches parents gave at the district’s board meetings:
“We moved here for the schools” was repeated over and over again.
Kingsley had an average per-pupil expenditure in 2008–2009 of more
than $21,500, over twice the national average. The district offers extensive
foreign language training, art and music instruction, and special educa-
tion programs for students with learning disabilities. With average SAT
scores in 2008 hovering around 1725 (out of a possible 2400 points),
Kingsley students’ scores are high, nearly 250 points above the state aver-
age. Additionally, about one-third of the district’s high school students
take AP courses. The district has many National Merit Scholars each year,
and the vast majority of Kingsley graduates attend college. Although al-
most 85% of Kingsley students are white, with nearly 8% African American
and roughly 6% Asian students, the district is more racially diverse than its
neighboring suburban districts. However, many of the African American
families, who are of varying economic backgrounds, are concentrated in
one neighborhood in the district. We call this neighborhood Oaksboro.
Kingsley households are highly advantaged in terms of income, hous-
ing prices, and parents’ educational attainment. Census data reveal that
in 2010 over one-third of the households in Kingsley had an income of
$150,000 or more, an income bracket that included only 9% of Americans
nationally. The median value of a house in the Kingsley School District
in 2010 was more than $450,000, which was more than three times the
state average (citation suppressed to protect confidentiality). Nationally in
2008, 28% of adults in the United States held at least a bachelor’s degree,
but in the same year in Kingsley, over 70% of adults did.
Kingsley is divided into a variety of neighborhoods, which roughly cor-
respond to the areas around the district’s six elementary schools. The
neighborhoods have somewhat different “characters.” Oak Park, for ex-
ample, is in the middle of the district. Immediately near the Oak Park
Elementary School are large sprawling suburban homes with older leafy
trees, expansive lawns, and large driveways. Many homes sit on half-acre
lots, and there are no sidewalks on most residential streets or near the
school. Oak Park Elementary School also draws from a neighborhood
called Oaksboro, where red brick row houses with small yards predomi-
nate (along with sidewalks), and where there is an older downtown center
with a “small town” feel. Morrisville, another neighborhood, is a slightly

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less affluent part of the district and has both large suburban homes and
duplexes with small yards; it is on one edge of the district boundary. Near
Southfield High School is Laurelhurst, where large houses sit on two- and
three-acre lots.
Historically, Kingsley has had two high schools: Southfield and Kingsley
High. With approximately 700 students, Southfield was the smaller of
the two, while Kingsley High had roughly 1,400 students. The two high
schools were very similar in terms of students’ scores on state-mandat-
ed tests, the SATs, and AP tests (Table 3). Ten years prior to this study,
the Kingsley School Board convened a special commission to assess the
need to modernize the aging school buildings. Drawing in part on so-
cial science research about school size, the board decided that rather
than renovate the high schools or create one very large high school for
the district, they would build two new ones that would be equal in size.
The school board acknowledged that redistricting would ultimately be
required to balance enrollments.
Table 3. Academic Achievement at Southfield and Kingsley
Southfield Kingsley 2008 State/
High School High School National Average
2008 State-Mandated Test:
Mathematics 1578 1535 State – 1330
(mean scale score)
2008 State-Mandated Test: Reading
1555 1535 State – 1350
(mean scale score)
2008 SAT 1 State – 1464
1690 1726
(average score out of 2400) National – 1501
(Public Schools)
Advanced Placement Tests: Scores of
84% 89% State – 64%
3, 4, or 5
National – 61%
Advanced Placement Courses: (Public Schools)
3.96 3.92
Mean Grade Point Average National – 2.83
Continuing Program of Higher
96% 94% 75%
Source: Kingsley School District website

At the time of the study, the district was reaching the completion of
the first new high school: the new Southfield building was scheduled to
open in the fall. Redistricting was required to shift approximately 400 stu-
dents from Kingsley to Southfield. Due to historical residential patterns,
the majority of families lived on the north side of the district. Kingsley
was the closest high school for approximately two-thirds of the children

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

in the district; thus, many of the 400 students who would be moved from
Kingsley High to Southfield would inevitably drive past Kingsley on their
way to school. In a district 5 miles in length, this would increase students’
travel time. For most students, the increase would be roughly 5 to 10 min-
utes, for a total bus ride of approximately 25 minutes in length. For some
students the ride would be considerably longer. However, none would
be longer than 45 minutes. Many parents’ interventions appeared to be
aimed at making sure that their children would not be among those re-
quired to shift to Southfield High.

A Summary of the Redistricting Process

Realizing that there was significant unease in the community, district of-
ficials began taking steps to address families’ concerns about redistricting
before releasing a plan. The process then unfolded in stages, with the dis-
trict revising its plan numerous times in response to community concerns.
For reasons of confidentiality, our manuscript does not delve into the spe-
cifics of the various plans that were presented by the district, the people in
the district who were in favor of and opposed to each plan, or the nuances
of the rationales held by the parents for their opposition to or support for
particular plans. Nor do we provide a comprehensive description of how
the conflict unfolded. Instead, we seek to present to provide the narrative
detail necessary to contextualize our analysis of parents’ use of cultural,
social, and symbolic capital when intervening in the process.
Prior to the release of a plan, the district sought to assure parents that
the process would be carried out in a way that respected their values and
had the best interests of their children at heart. For example, the district
organized a series of forums 4 months before releasing its first plan. At the
forums, an established educational researcher, acting as a consultant, led
a process in which parents, working initially in small groups, were asked
to discuss the key values that underlay their commitment to their com-
munities. With the consultant’s guidance, the larger group then identified
a set of core values shared among residents and discussed ways in which
these values could and should inform the redistricting process.4 Months
later, at the meeting in which the first redistricting plan was presented to
the public, district officials suggested that these core values had guided
the district’s policy recommendations. As one of the slides declared: “All
decisions have been made on objective criteria and in the best interest of
students and the school district and on no other basis.”
In an effort to be responsive to community concerns, the district in-
troduced four different plans. As the school district’s designs shifted, the
substance of parents’ concerns shifted as well. Parents’ concerns generally

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centered around a few issues: ability to walk to school, length of bus ride,
peer continuity from middle school to high school, desire to remain with
children in the same neighborhood, racial and ethnic diversity in enroll-
ment, and feelings that the district’s policy change was being unfairly
borne by some families more than others. Each of the four plans “grand-
fathered” in current high school students, but they varied in terms of the
size and scope of the “walk zone” for students living in the area of each
high school. In some versions, high school students who lived slightly over
a mile from one high school were bused to the other to equalize enroll-
ment. Furthermore, as the high schools’ catchment boundaries shifted,
the feeder patterns from the elementary schools and middle schools
changed. In some plans students from the same middle school would have
gone to different high schools.
At any given stage in the process, some parents would express support
for the current version of the plan while others expressed opposition.
Both supporters and opponents mobilized collectively in response to the
various plans proposed by the district. In the end, the school district did
pass a redistricting plan, it was enacted, and a lawsuit was filed by parents
in response that did not prevail. Our goal in describing these events is
analytic. Even when parents were mobilizing in support of one of the dis-
trict’s proposed plans, as we illustrate below, they brought immense stores
of cultural, social, and symbolic capital to bear as they rallied behind their
preferred plan and against the efforts of the equally well-resourced par-
ents who opposed it.
The redistricting process was a dramatic community event that con-
sumed countless hours of time and significant emotional energy on the
part of parents, children, and educators. There were numerous articles in
the local newspaper, letters to the editor, community meetings, protests,
petitions, and conversations related to the redistricting. The process un-
folded over most of a school year. Many of the school board meetings in-
cluded between 80 and 100 public speakers, large protest signs, petitions,
follow-up emails, and visibly angry parents. While board meetings prior
to the redistricting process were usually perfunctory, the highly-charged
redistricting meetings often lasted until after midnight. Children spoke
first so they did not have to stay late into the night. Parents from different
neighborhoods sat together, often in color-coded outfits to provide a vis-
ible representation of their strength.
Parents had high levels of emotional intensity around where the school
attendance lines would be drawn.5 This is apparent, for example, in field
notes written by the first author about a meeting in which a new plan
was presented:

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After the meeting ends a group goes up behind the table to crane
their necks up to try to find the lines. They seem anxious. Four white
moms talk about it with the board President. They are disagreeing.
Slowly it dawns on them. They have been moved to Southfield. At
first they are in disbelief and unsure if they have heard properly.
The board President does not seem to be picking up [on their
reaction] and says loudly and firmly, “NO, ALL of Oaksboro is at
Southfield. Oaksboro borough is at Southfield.” . . . The moms
look at each other with stunned looks. A youngish woman with a
mop of blond curls and freckles looks outraged. She slowly shakes
her head. She mutters angrily. As she comes around the table her
friend gives her a shove on the shoulder of her grey sweatshirt and
commands, “Walk! Walk to get out of here before you kill some-
body.” The three of them stride off out of the auditorium.
Some parents got together in groups, right in the auditorium, to caucus:
Behind me a group of six moms are coming together. One mom is
crying. Her eyes are red. A friend is saying, “We will fight it!” Crying
mom is saying, “It is not fair.” She appears to be devastated. Another
mom comes over and somewhat earnestly says to the other moms
that they have to get together to fight it. Another mom (petite, in
jeans and sweater) is pacing around (loudly) talking on her cell:
“No! We do not have a map! It will be posted tomorrow. It was very
NEGLIGENT of the consultant not to bring a map. I just think it was
NEGLIGENT of him not to bring a map. Now we have to wait all the
way until tomorrow!” She is agitated. She is saying a few minutes later,
“This is just not fair.” “How am I going to tell my 12-year-old?”
In interviews, speeches to the school board, online-group posts, emails
to the district, and informal conversations with other parents after board
meetings, parents reported feeling distressed by the redistricting process.
Some reported losing sleep over the matter.
The incoming superintendent, when asked in one of our interviews to
draw a weather analogy describing the redistricting process, described it
as a “damaging” event:
Q: If you had to use a weather analogy, what would it be, hurri-
cane, tornado, storm, thunderstorm, drizzle?
A: It was way more than a drizzle. I would say it was a Nor’easter.
You know, it blew up, and then it was just intense changing winds
over a long period of time, damaging winds…better than 60 or 70
miles an hour.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

The superintendent’s assessment flags several elements of the contro-

versy, all of which help explain why the consequences for district decision-
making and operations were so profound: the conflict was intense and
powerfully felt, factions and emotions shifted over time, the most intense
stages of the conflict were quite prolonged, and the result, according to
key leaders, was significant damage to the civic and educational landscape.

Parents’ Opposition and the Role of Cultural, Social, and

Symbolic Capital

When parents protested the various redistricting plans, they rarely voiced
their concerns solely in terms of the impact these plans would have on their
families. Rather, they presented arguments that had a more general scope.
In the process of developing these arguments, the parents frequently drew
on their own professional knowledge and skills. They coupled this expertise
with a willingness and ability to activate existing social networks and to forge
new ties in a manner geared toward developing a mobilized group that
could act as an effective counterweight to both the district administration
and the board. Taken together, these activities suggested a significant expec-
tation of deference from administrators and officials on the part of parents.

Professional Expertise

To contest the various redistricting plans that were proposed, parents worked
hard to develop compelling arguments that had an “objective” basis. A num-
ber, for example, cited studies in peer-reviewed journals. Others approached
recognized experts on child development and then quoted statements they
provided. Still others analyzed census data on the neighborhoods in the dis-
trict or gathered information that was directly relevant to the issues being
disputed (e.g., by using a stopwatch to measure the time needed to drive be-
tween two points). In doing so, they frequently drew on the cultural capital
constituted by their professional and occupational knowledge.
For example, in her comments on an online message board, one moth-
er used her professional skills to critically assess how the district’s hired
consultant had presented calculations related to race and ethnicity in the
Kingsley District. Declaring her professional status, she presented her con-
cerns to other parents:
The consultant reported the [race/ethnicity] counts only. As a
professional planner, I am concerned [with] the way the data is
presented. By not showing the percent distribution, readers can-
not comprehend the magnitude. (Emily Zang, parent posting to
online message board)

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Ms. Zang wrote long memos about the issues involved in projecting
school enrollments, and she carefully scrutinized all of the figures pre-
sented by the district. She also calculated her own figures to support her
anti-busing stance:
Based on the assumptions stated, the Morrisville neighborhood
collectively spent about 66,000 hours more for traveling to
Southfield [High School]. Of which the students spent 54,000
hours while parents drive 12,700 hours extra. The financial bur-
den is about $260 for each family who drives to school each year.
It does not cover the expense in additional [electrical] lighting….
in the morning. The school bus fleet uses at least 32,000 miles
more. Since some buses used compressed natural gas, I cannot
estimate the gallons of gasoline and the actual financial burden.
(Emily Zang, parent posting to online message board)
Other parents also used their specialized knowledge to perform sta-
tistical analyses or to double-check the figures the district had pre-
sented. Several parents collectively revised the district’s enrollment
projections, and others compiled data collected via stopwatches to
determine travel times between neighborhoods and schools at various
points during the school day. Bringing a different type of experience
to bear on the situation, one mother advised her peers on how to gen-
erate media coverage:
If we want media coverage (do we?), this is the kind of thing that
is likely to bring them out. Mention to the assignment desk coor-
dinator that you expect a large community turnout as well. They
like things they can get good pictures of. Just people standing
around talking doesn’t usually do it, but the chance of a HUGE
group with a political candidate there could tip the scales. A te-
dious, long press release faxed to the desk won’t even make it
past the circular file. It has to be BRIEF (emphasize Morrisville’s
isolation with possible racial diversity manipulation as hooks?). —
Meg Evans (no longer in TV News–thank goodness!) (Meg Evans,
parent posting to online message board)
Parents living in the same neighborhoods (and, therefore, facing the
same changes posed by the redistricting designs) frequently collaborated
with each other as they challenged or supported the board’s most recent
redistricting design. Contributors to the online discussion groups shared
with each other the tables, charts, and spreadsheets they had created in
support of or opposition to the board’s designs:

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

I just wanted to share some quick calculations (and I really hope

they are correct). I put together a quick spreadsheet of the travel
distance from each of the 3 Township Boulevard corridor elemen-
tary schools that might be considered for redistricting. (Carly
Frisk, parent posting to online message board)
A few days later, another parent supplemented this spreadsheet with
data of her own that provided support for a scenario “3B,” which parents
proposed to the board (but which was never seriously considered by the
I just posted an excel file with travel distances for grades 6-12,
which is modified from the spreadsheet that Carly posted last
week. This one includes all six elementary schools and consid-
ers the status quo, the current proposal, and scenario 3B (Dave
Thompson, parent posting to online message board)
Acquired through specialized professional and occupational knowledge
or through original research, this detailed information underpinned par-
ents’ strategies and arguments as they sought to alter the institutional con-
ditions affecting their children.
In addition to using their specialized knowledge “behind the scenes”
as they strategized and planned among themselves, parents also drew on
their professional and occupational knowledge in their verbal and writ-
ten communications with the school board. For example, at one board
meeting, a parent quoted from educational research in order to contest a
plan that would have separated a number of children from their peers by
assigning them to different schools:
I want to pick up on something that Cecilia said in her wonder-
ful introductory comments, and that is that I want to talk about
what’s best for the children. Study after study have [sic] shown
that the most important transition is from elementary school to
middle school. It’s one of the critical junctures in a child’s de-
velopment. [applause] Especially as it occurs right as puberty is
happening or not happening, as the case may be. Quoting from
the National Middle School Association, the NMSA, “this compli-
cated period of transition has often been associated with the de-
cline in academic achievement, performance motivation and self-
perceptions. It is a time when young adolescents are most likely
to experiment with at-risk behaviors. It is also the point at which
children begin to make pivotal decisions regarding their academ-
ic and career choice, precisely at a time when they may be dis-
tracted or turned off by academic endeavors.” Researchers from

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the University of Michigan [who] studied the transition from ele-

mentary to middle school note that on average, children’s grades
dropped dramatically during the first year of middle school com-
pared to their grades in elementary school…. So now with this
new redistricting policy, we’re asking children from elementary
school, small groups of children, to be carved out and now get
thrown into a large middle school where they will know very, very
few children. Thank you. [applause – cheers] (Sarah Thompson,
parent speaking at a board meeting)
Another parent commented as she presented the board with two one-
inch-thick binders filled with copies of research articles:
Scientific data shows, and these are peer-reviewed studies,…that
bus rides less than one hour do not affect student performance,
and I have copies of the studies for you here…. The articles dem-
onstrate also that walking to school is part of education. Kids who
walk to school are more physically fit, and a linear relationship
has been demonstrated between academic scores and physical fit-
ness, and again, I have the data here. (Mary Patterson, parent
speaking at a board meeting)
In other instances, parents claimed command of the academic litera-
ture to bluntly contradict assertions made by district officials about the
ideal configuration of grade cohorts:
I also must note that I was a little disappointed in [the superinten-
dent’s] comments on Monday, and please correct me if I misheard
or these are wrong, that K-12 is a better educational framework
than K-8 or 6-12. The academic research on cohort movement
does not bear out this claim. We would really like to know where
you are getting this information. Thank you. [applause] (Tracey
Ingram-Presser, parent speaking at a board meeting)
Some parents declared that their view of the current plan was directly
rooted in their own specialized professional knowledge. For example, one
parent, a university professor, shared his perspective with the board:
I am a professor of urban studies at [a local university]. I’m here as
an urban planner to say that it is unimaginable from an environ-
mental perspective that you would eliminate a walk zone around
a high school in an age when children can and should walk or
ride bicycles to their school. (Joseph Williams, parent speaking at
a board meeting)

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Yet another parent highlighted her professional role and its relationship
to how she saw the redistricting process:
As a mother and pediatrician, I understand the significance of
the transition from middle to high school. I also recognize the
importance of peers and continuity to make this sometimes diffi-
cult transition proceed as smoothly as possible. (Karen Essington,
parent speaking at a board meeting)
Other parents attending the public-comment sessions of district board
meetings read statements written and submitted by prominent research-
ers they had contacted about the educational significance of maintaining
grade cohorts from kindergarten through 12th grade or of limiting stu-
dents’ separation from peers. One parent addressed the board:
I went to the research…and I reached out to the people at uni-
versities, and I didn’t just take the research, I talked to them….
I want to share with you—and I have the research, I’ve sent it to
the [district’s] website, but I want to—I’ve shared their emails.
I just want to share them with you here because I know you get
thousands of emails. (Dan Crocker, parent speaking at a board
Indeed, invocations of authority were not uncommon. One parent be-
gan his allotted 2-minute speaking slot by saying, “I’m going to read a
statement from Dr. Laura Isendorf, who is a noted psychologist.” Another
began, “I will be using my two minutes tonight to read a letter addressed
to the board by Dr. Elizabeth Fox, Associate Professor of Education at [a
local university].” At the same meeting, two more parents read statements
submitted by academic researchers attesting to the educational signifi-
cance of school transitions and feeder patterns.6
In sum, the parents who involved themselves in the redistricting process
brought to bear an array of resources connected to or deriving from their
educational attainment and professional expertise, which they repeatedly
shared with other parents in their community. These resources included
their own professional and occupational knowledge, their access to pub-
lished research, and their possession of the skills needed to conduct origi-
nal research and statistical analyses. While this deployment of resources
had numerous consequences, among the most important was the creation
of a reserve of credible, expertly-sanctioned knowledge that provided a
warrant for dissension from the administration’s claim that its proposed
plan was in the best interest of the students. Parents’ collective activation
of this knowledge made it more difficult for the district to implement the
policy change.

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Organization and Mobilization

In addition to drawing upon their professional expertise and the accom-

panying specialized knowledge, Kingsley parents also activated their social
capital by making use of network ties and of their formidable organiza-
tional skills during the rapidly unfolding redistricting process. To this end,
one of their central tools was online discussion boards. At least five mes-
sage boards included “threads,” or conversations, related to the redistrict-
ing, and three of these were newly created in response to the district’s pro-
posals. These boards were active. For example, in the first 6 days after the
creation of one online discussion board, over 450 messages were posted.
In all, nearly 200 unique members posted close to 1,300 messages on this
board over a period of 4 months. These messages comprised nearly 200
threads which attacked, and occasionally supported, the district’s redis-
tricting plans.
Parents contributing to these online discussions worked hard to get ev-
eryone involved quickly:
I’ve emailed people from last year’s directory, class by class, invit-
ing them to join the listserv. I’ve done the kindergarten and most
of first grade and am doing as much as I can tonight. (Heidi
Owens, parent posting to online message board)
Parents also held their own caucuses, in which they debated the designs
proposed by the school board and strategized about how best to voice
their concerns. Less than a week after the Kingsley School District Board
released its first redistricting design, parents on one of the online message
boards reported on one such meeting and the extensive array of commit-
tees they had organized. This caucus established more than 10 commit-
tees, with functions including public relations, resident communications,
school board relations, and media relations. They also formed committees
charged with researching redistricting alternatives, legal issues, social is-
sues, and transportation and busing issues.
Similarly, the day before a school board meeting devoted to one of the
redistricting plans, about 40 parents of students at Oak Park Elementary
School gathered in a church. The atmosphere in the meeting was tense.
Parents disagreed about strategy and how to communicate their opposition
most effectively to the board. Some parents were highly distraught. One
mother reported that she had not been sleeping due to her concerns about
the redistricting plans. At the end of the meeting, another mother asked
everyone present to call 10 other people they knew as soon as they got home
to encourage them to attend the board meeting the following evening.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

The mobilization of parents via the online discussion boards and the
caucus meetings could be seen at each of the school board meetings de-
voted to public comment on the redistricting designs. At these meetings
parents from various areas in the district tended to sit together and to
wear the same color to show their solidarity in support of or opposition to
the plan being discussed. For example, on one of the discussion boards, a
parent encouraged others to wear navy blue to the board meeting to indi-
cate support for their desired redistricting design. She wrote:
I’d like to alert you that many from the Morrisville area will be
wearing navy blue attire in honor of our school colors. Please feel
free to wear navy as well…the Morrisville contingent will be sitting
near the front, to the left of center (to the left as one faces the
stage). Please feel free to sit there if you are so inclined. (Carly
Frisk, parent posting to online message board)
Mobilization and “rallying of the troops” were common among the par-
ents on the discussion boards. Another parent used an online discussion
board to cajole her fellow parents to attend a board meeting. She wrote:
As a last minute plea, I am asking all of us to turn out tonight for
the school board meeting for the final vote on redistricting.… I
have heard from a very reliable source that there will be media
coverage at tonight’s meeting. If the only people attending are
people against the current plan, it will look like the school board
is voting against the public will. We need to show that the general
public is FOR this plan. Please come tonight. (Marta Norris, par-
ent posting to online message board)
Online discussion boards served not only as a means of exchanging in-
formation, research findings, and strategies for approaching the board;
they also functioned as venues for the discussion of strategies of how
to best use the information gained from the activation of network ties.
Parents contacted colleagues and acquaintances who might possess spe-
cialized knowledge of their own. For example, several parents who were
university professors contacted colleagues in departments of education
and psychology who might be able to supply relevant research findings.
One such parent posted on a discussion board:
I have spoken with my [local university] colleagues in Social Work,
Psychology, AND Education, and they all emphasize the difficul-
ties of transitioning from ES [elementary school] to MS [middle
school] and the need for support and familiarity. (Natalie Narconi
Hotham, parent posting to online message board)

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Other non-university-based parents “hit up” their friends for supportive

research findings:
I have a girlfriend in the Psychology Department at [local univer-
sity] I will hit up for data on the ms/hs [middle-school-to-high-
school] transition. (Julie Reskin, parent posting to online mes-
sage board)
Parents such as the one quoted below drew upon their social networks
for legal or strategic advice:
I have spoken to an acquaintance who is an attorney who has
served on the school board [of a nearby town] about our situation
and our strongest arguments to the school board. She said that
it’s not enough for the school board to declare “no new transpor-
tation costs”…. She suggested that we demand (respectfully, of
course) that the [district] provide a parent ride-along to demon-
strate the actual travel time. Ask them to prove the 20-minute bus
ride to Southfield High School they discussed. We can guarantee
them a bus-ful of parents with stop watches…. This would give us
actual data, and we could tell them that this is a legitimate con-
cern of ours, so it’s in their best interests to allay our fears. (Maria
Nixon, parent posting to online message board)
Still other parents used their political connections as they attempted to
influence the redistricting outcome:
It is great that Mitch Simmons [a local township politician] came
to our meeting and he appears to be supportive. We need to make
sure that he doesn’t just support us morally—he needs to make
some calls and use what political capital he has to help our cause….
Many of you likely know him better than I—if you do, please con-
tribute your thoughts on what specifically he can and ought to do
for us. (Katherine Nield, parent posting to online message board)
In addition to their activation of social ties and their creation of online
venues for around-the-clock updates and exchanges of information and strat-
egies, some Kingsley parents used their organizational skills to “game the sys-
tem.” For example, the district did not allow public comment at all of the
board meetings. At three points during the redistricting process, the school
board held a meeting in which it introduced and described a new version of
the redistricting design, but took no questions or feedback from the audi-
ence. Instead, the district encouraged individuals to submit their feedback via
email. Following this, the district would hold a meeting in which the entire
school board would listen to speeches by community members. Due to the

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

large number of people wishing to speak at these meetings, the board devised
a policy that allowed each person to speak for only 2 minutes. Those who
wished to comment were required to sign up at the beginning of the meeting.
During one of these meetings, which was scheduled to begin at 8:00 pm,
parents arrived more than an hour early and began circulating their own
sign-up sheet. When the superintendent’s administrative assistant, Gwen
Lannon, arrived at 7:00, there was already a list with 41 names on it. Many
of the names were in the same handwriting and bright green ink, as one
person appeared to have signed up 20 people. Ms. Lannon felt that she
“didn’t have a handle on it,” and for the next meeting the district took
organizational steps to assert control. District officials announced that
parents could sign up beginning at 7:00, and if they arrived before 7:00,
they should sit in the first row of the auditorium, and the district officials
would take signatures in the order in which the parents sat. As Ms. Lannon
indicated in an interview, even with these rules in place, parents tried to
work the system to their advantage:
They weren’t allowed [to sign-up more than one person], but if
I turned my back—because at the point I had to sort of just do a
little work setting up the table—they would. If I was there, they
didn’t. I wouldn’t let them, but—it’s amazing how quickly we can
revert to childhood. (Gwen Lannon, interview)
Of course some parents in the district did not activate network ties or
make use of their organizational skills during the redistricting conflict.
Some were not concerned with possible changes that would move their
child from one elite high school to another equally elite high school. For
example, one mother reported refusing to allow a large red-and-white sign
opposing the district’s plan to be placed on her corner lot. Her neighbor
was angry, but the mother felt that the district’s plans were fine.

Parental Stance

In addition to using their professional expertise, highly specialized

knowledge, and well-developed organizational skills and social networks,
Kingsley parents also displayed a notable sense of prerogative in their ob-
jections to the school district’s plans. This symbolic capital was manifest
when parents challenged the fundamental right of the school district to
move their children to another school. Some parents declared that the
redistricting plans would break the “contract” they had agreed to when
they bought a home in a neighborhood located within the catchment area
of a particular elementary, middle, and high school. One parent emailed
the Kingsley School District Board with the following ideas:

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It may very well be the best solution for the overall Kingsley school
district—but it is NOT the best solution for us Morrisville families
and therefore you really should be obligated to show us that our
hardship is the best way for all of Kingsley. Furthermore, if our
hardship is indeed the best way, then we should be compensated
for this hardship in ways that directly impact our specific fami-
lies, children, and school experience. Tangible enhancements
to the Southfield school experience (both extracurricular and
curricular), various methods of shortening the school bus travel
time, and any other ways that our pain can be minimized—would
be minimal acceptable compensation for the hardship you are
asking our families to endure. (Fred Gibbons, email to Kingsley
School District)
In addition to demanding compensation for what they felt were unrea-
sonable hardships resulting from the redistricting designs, parents were
also harsh in their criticism of the board:
I just saw the proposed redistricting [design]. To say it is awful is
an understatement. Your administration have [sic] concocted a
scheme seriously lacking contiguity that rivals the last round of
congressional district gerrymandering. (Ted Braxton, email to
Kingsley School District)
Another parent insisted that the plan made “no sense” given the dis-
tance her children would have to travel:
Southfield HS is at the VERY OTHER END OF TOWN FROM
MORRISVILLE! It is approximately 4 miles away when Kingsley
HS is only approximately 1.5 miles! It makes no sense to have my
children traveling all that distance when EVERY OTHER CHILD
in the township lives closer to Southfield than my children do!
(Calvin and Monica Hughes, email to Kingsley School District)
Some parents were insistent that—by virtue of the fact that they paid
taxes and participated in municipal elections—the school board must not
“ignore” them:
I hope that the public comment meetings are not just for show and
that you might possibly listen to our opinions and make a change
to the proposed plan. I believe the impact on these teenagers has
been brushed under the rug. We don’t pay taxes and vote to be
ignored. (Sara Ellerby, email to Kingsley School District)

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Other parents complained that they had bought a home in order to

send their children to a particular school, and they vehemently objected
to the possibility that these plans would be disrupted. The tone of the criti-
cisms often suggested that parents felt entitled to have the school district as-
sign their children to the school that had been previously assigned. Some
parents discussed the possibility of litigating the issue. Ms. Lannon, the ad-
ministrative assistant to the Kingsley superintendent, spoke of such a pos-
sibility in an interview: “And then of course there were threats of lawsuits.
We probably will have one.” Having fielded phone calls from parents who
claimed that redistricting was “tearing their lives apart, they’ll never be the
same, they’ll never recover,” Ms. Lannon also described the assumption of
prerogative she has noticed among Kingsley parents:
There’s a sense of entitlement here that I’m not really sure where
that comes from. A lot, there’s a lot of wealth here, and I don’t
know where that sense of entitlement comes from, I really don’t.
But it just seems to be—they call it Kingsleyitis. I mean there’s a
name; people have named it. [chuckles] It’s like this sense of en-
titlement.7 (Gwen Lannon, interview)
Saying that Kingsley “is not a community that rolls with the punches
or adapts to change very well,” Ms. Lannon reported receiving phone
calls from Kingsley parents crying or making what she considered to be
unfair accusations against the board. She said that parents often made
harsh or angry statements in these phone calls: “This is absurd, this is
ludicrous, are they [the school board members] insane? Are they nuts?
I want their jobs.”
To be sure, a number of parents addressed the board to give members
positive feedback or empathy. For example, one parent wrote, “Thank you
for taking the time to read, listen, and review our comments. We do not
envy any of you. This is a difficult undertaking” (Tom Robers, email to
Kingsley School District). Another parent declared, “It’s wonderful to see
the school board committed to careful analysis before proceeding with
such a complex task” (Julia Johnson, email to Kingsley School District).
One mother closed her email by writing, “Thanks to everyone for engag-
ing in this process and for allowing community input” (Sarah Riley, email
to Kingsley School District).
However, other parents did not hesitate to critically assess any aspect
of the process. Indeed, in addition to frequent condemnations of the
substance of the plans, some parents criticized aspects of the board’s

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I wanted to write to say thank you to all board members for taking
the time to be there and listen to all of us last night. It is a difficult
thing to do…. I understand the need to limit time to two minutes
per person but it was not enough to speak coherently and get my
point across. In the future, I suggest we start the meeting at 7:00
pm so everyone can say what they need to say face-to-face. After
all, it is an extremely important decision for the children affect-
ed. Personally, face-to-face discussions are more productive than
sending emails and hoping they are read by ALL Board members.
(Mark Smith, email to Kingsley School District)
Comments such as these implied that parents considered it appropri-
ate to evaluate the performance of the administration and the board
in terms of substance and procedure. Although there may have been
some who felt powerless or intimidated, the emails, letters, and speeches
were striking in the stance parents took. Parents did not automatically
defer to the authority or expertise of the public school board as they
demanded institutional changes that reflected their priorities. Indeed,
some parents we interviewed described their peers as out of control, as
these parents of a child in kindergarten complained when discussing
parents in their son’s school:
Mr. Thorne: What I’m finding out in Kingsley, you can make a
video called “Parents Gone Wild”.… Parents are out of control
sometimes. Some parents are out of control.
Mrs. Thorne: They demand, they always expect to get, and when
they don’t get it, it’s a problem.
Mr. Thorne: Because the parents are people of privilege. So if
they say, “My child should have that teacher” and it doesn’t work
that way. In the public school, you get assigned a teacher. Period.
Could you imagine if every parent could come in and say [which
teacher they want for their child]…. Number one, teachers would
lose control of the school, and number two, it would be pande-
monium up there, because if Drew now has a best friend and his
[friend’s] parent told the school he wants to go into that class,
and then we would want to go to that class, and his best friend is
in that class, he wants to be in that class!
Thus, Mr. Thorne explicitly recognized the organizational challenges
educators faced when working with parents possessing ample cultural and
social resources. Parents’ expectations and requests required significant
time and attention from school and district administrators.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

The Next Generation

Parents were not the only ones who mobilized against redistricting plans;
children also played a role. Given the significance that redistricting car-
ried for the parents who mobilized—and the time and effort they devoted
to critiquing the various plans—it is not surprising that their children were
highly cognizant of the issues. Some children became involved directly in
the process themselves.
At school board meetings, for instance, the district not only permitted
students to participate, but it arranged for them to be the first speakers of
the evening to avoid making them wait late into the night. Thus, at one
meeting a total of 12 students spoke. Prior to the start of the meeting, par-
ents could be observed consulting with their children on their statements
and providing them with feedback. Like their parents, the children sought
to make compelling and convincing arguments to the members of the
board. One student, for example, emphasized environmental concerns:
Hi, my name is Ashley Press. I live on Greene Road in Kingsley. I
am in fourth grade. I’m in the gifted support program, and we are
working on making the earth an environmentally friendly place.
We are working on getting solar panels for our schools to help
this global warming problem…. If you expand the walk zone for
Kingsley High School you can be helping too. By busing all of
these students to Southfield High School, it is just making the
Earth dirtier unnecessarily…. The environment means a whole
lot to me and my community, so if all of the students in our cur-
rent walk zone get bused to Southfield, it won’t only be affecting
the community but the environment…. My parents are really into
this, and when I found out what was happening with the redistrict-
ing it made me start to think about what I can do. (Ashley Press,
child speaking at a board meeting)
Later in the evening, Ashley’s father, Samuel, also spoke. While he in-
voked a number of grounds to deem the plan under consideration lack-
ing, he echoed his daughter when he concluded his statement by asserting
the community’s commitment to environmentalism:
We are an informed society as to what we are doing to this planet.
We as residents walk to local shopping centers and to Kingsley
High School. We do this for exercise, fresh air and to reduce the
carbon footprint. We recycle and reuse. We turn our heating and
cooling thermostats higher and lower as the season dictates so
as to use less energy. We invest in this community with solar heat
and electricity, geo-thermal heat, we insulate our homes better

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than the average building code. All of this is to save our planet.
(Samuel Press, parent speaking at a board meeting)
Despite the fact that the auditorium seated 500 and the audience always
numbered over 100, the students appeared poised and confident as they
spoke. Hence, these students were not only observing their parents seek-
ing to alter institutional policies; some of them were gaining first-hand
experience in the process of intervening in institutions.

Parents’ Approaches to Redistricting Plans

Not all parents were actively involved in the redistricting process, but in
a district of 6,500 students, our analysis found that over 300 people (with
unique email addresses) joined online discussion groups focused on the
issue. Multiple petitions were circulated, gathering almost 1,000 signa-
tures in a matter of weeks. We asked many people in the district if they
knew of any parents who were completely uninvolved in the redistricting
process, in that they did not know about it, did not follow the meetings,
and were unaware of the various redistricting plans. We could not find any
such parents.8 Even “uninvolved” parents followed the events, sometimes
drove the route to Southfield, talked to their friends, and shared opinions.
However, there was variation. For some parents, the redistricting process
consumed significant amounts of time and energy. In interviews parents
reported spending 1 to 2.5 hours per week as they sought to influence the
redistricting design adopted by the school board, as this father notes:
It wasn’t daily…one official meeting with the school board, once
a month for all three hours, then there were several community
meetings, there’s online stuff. You’d probably average it out for
me to maybe an hour and a half a week, maybe two hours a week,
figuring in talking, thinking and this and that. So it’d probably be
two, two-and-a-half hours a week for four months. You know, it’s a
sizeable, sizeable investment. (Kyle Kennison, interview)
Although a “sizeable investment” of time, this father (along with other
parents) felt it was critical to help shape his children’s education.

School Quality

Among people opposed to the redistricting plans, few indicated that

they perceived differences in the quality of Southfield and Kingsley High
School. On a variety of indicators, the two high schools were very similar
(Table 3). In their speeches opposing the redistricting, parents sometimes
went out of their way to praise the quality of both schools:

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

I think it’s important to remember all the kids are going to get
an excellent education. (Alissa Ryder, parent speaking at a board
We’re really fortunate that they’re all great schools, and I’d be
thrilled to have my kid go to any of our schools. (Tom Winden,
parent speaking at a board meeting)
Indeed, in a variety of settings, parents often emphasized their belief
that Kingsley High and Southfield were both outstanding schools. Some
parents noted that the students attending Southfield come from wealthier
families than those attending Kingsley High School. These parents wor-
ried that their children would experience ill effects from being in school
with children from more affluent families. Others noted that histori-
cally Southfield High was more “intimate” than the larger Kingsley High
School. But in thousands of emails, dozens of hours of public commen-
tary, and countless private conversations, we did not hear claims that one
school was academically “better” than the other.
Hence, the debate about the redistricting designs never seemed to be
about school quality. Rather it was about accessibility to Kingsley via pub-
lic transportation (which was not possible at Southfield), distance from
home to school, length of bus rides, the potential for students to walk
to school, continuity of peers across school transitions, the creation of a
racially diverse and balanced study body, and a sense of community owner-
ship and attachment to Kingsley High School in particular. A key concern
was which neighborhoods would bear the brunt of a largely unpopular
school policy. The communities in which children were, in the end, redis-
tricted were bitter and angry at the result.

Costs of the Redistricting Battle

From the perspective of civic engagement and political mobilization,

the redistricting battle could be viewed as a success. But from the per-
spective of educators attempting to meet the bureaucratic goal of hav-
ing balanced enrollments in schools, the redistricting battle was, as the
superintendent reported, equivalent to a “Nor’easter.” For in addition
to promoting children’s achievement, districts face intense pressures to
deliver services efficiently. Districts cannot control how many children
reside within their boundaries (much less within the catchment areas of
particular schools), and union contracts mandate limits on class sizes.
Other priorities, including the need to offer a wide variety of AP courses
at each school, also drove the district’s efforts to redistribute students
across schools.

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As district officials took steps to balance enrollments, however, they

faced formidable opposition from parents. The redistricting battle ab-
sorbed significant amounts of time on the parts of the district administra-
tion’s staff, the public relations officer, the superintendent, school board
members, and, of course, parents and children.9 Some weeks the district
reported that it received 1,000 emails on the issue.10 The superintendent
also believed that there was lasting damage from the event, including
harsh feelings among the members of the school board, damage to the
district’s reputation both externally and internally (particularly among
African-American parents, who charged that the district’s decisions were
racially motivated), and the creation of “false heroes” who, according to
the superintendent, “have stepped up to lead people in some really nega-
tive ways.” The superintendent and his administrative staff described the
experience as very stressful.


One of the most fundamental characteristics of the majority of the public

schools in the United States is the fact that they are matched with the chil-
dren they serve (and their families) by means of an external mechanism—
the housing market. As has been well established, public schools and
property markets are closely attuned to one another: on the one hand, test
scores of students—widely taken to be a measure of school quality—have a
demonstrable effect on housing prices (Black, 1999); on the other hand,
the capacity (and willingness) of local residents to pay property taxes has a
large effect on school finances (Kozol, 2012). The result can be a feedback
process that encourages residential segregation according to wealth or in-
come levels (Reardon & Bischoff, 2011). Indeed, recent research (Owens,
2016) suggests that residential income segregation in the United States is
intensifying, especially among households with children, and that public
school districts are one of the key geographical units of this process.
While the various dimensions of this process have been documented,
much less remarked upon is the fact that the same forces often tend to
concentrate families that possess similar quantities of noneconomic re-
sources—that is, similar quantities of cultural, social, and symbolic capital.
Consequently, although the potential for conflict may be an “integral as-
pect” of school districts in general (McGuire, 1984), this potential would
appear to be exacerbated in elite districts like Kingsley. More specifically,
it seems to us that discord between parents and administrators is more
likely to take on collective form in elite districts, since parents in these
districts enjoy a significant capacity for mobilization, as well as the exper-
tise of highly educated professionals and an expectation that officials will

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

respond to their preferences.11 Thus, whereas educational researchers

have usually viewed cultural, social, and symbolic capital as resources that
are deployed by individuals (or by parents, on behalf of their own chil-
dren) in the pursuit of individual advantages, we have raised the possibil-
ity of their collective use. Although we cannot be certain about the course
that events in Kingsley would have taken in the absence of these efforts, it
seems highly likely that the “united front” of expertise that large numbers
of parents sought to create was able to substantially hamper officials’ ef-
forts at redistricting.12 Even though district officials did, in the end, pre-
vail, the process consumed extensive organizational resources and, as the
superintendent suggested, created lasting damage.
Our findings are especially pertinent in relation to the large literature
on cultural capital and education (DiMaggio, 1982; Jaeger, 2011). In this
literature, cultural resources are typically viewed as attributes of individual
students or (at most) their immediate families; moreover, their efficacy is as-
sumed to manifest itself almost exclusively at the level of individuals. In the
case we have analyzed, however, the geographic concentration of individu-
als with high levels of cultural capital, and their investment in the function-
ing of a particular institution, led to a pooling of cultural resources that is
different in kind from the effects documented in previous studies. Thus,
as they discussed how to get on TV news, scrutinized and criticized district
statistics, and evaluated the implications of alternative bus routes, parents
benefited from the cultural capital ensconced in their community.
One question that our findings clearly raise is exactly what the precondi-
tions are for an aggregation of resources to occur along the lines of what
took place in Kingsley. We suspect, for example, that occupational status
and educational attainment are key: as the proportion of parents who are
comparable to (or exceed) administrators and policymakers along these
dimensions increases, we would anticipate that the likelihood that con-
flicts over schooling will take on a collective form also increases.
Be this as it may, the outcome of the process that we have described was
that school administrators and board members in the Kingsley District
were subject to a torrent of “data” and “research findings” that were used
to criticize the district’s proposed plans. The validity of the parents’ claims
could not be easily dismissed, since the district’s own policies were often
justified in similar terms. While no single criticism was decisive, the ongo-
ing challenges to proposed policies forced the district into a permanently
defensive posture. Consequently, parent mobilization resulted in a reduc-
tion of the board’s ability to use its own expert knowledge to decide which
institutional policies would best serve students’ needs.
The parents in Kingsley agreed, almost universally, that there were no
significant differences in educational quality between the district’s two

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

high schools—and indeed, we did not observe a single instance in which

school quality formed the basis of a challenge to the redistricting plans.
One may therefore be tempted to dismiss these and similar conflicts as
sociologically insignificant. We would point out, however, that the same
resources parents made use of in the redistricting conflicts would remain
available if they were faced with the prospect of a reform that genuinely
encroached on the educational privileges their children enjoy. (One can
speculate, for example, about the protests that would take shape if district
boundaries were re-drawn so as to include a large number of poor chil-
dren.) We note, as well, that a number of parents used the redistricting
conflicts as an opportunity to develop their children’s skills in institutional
intervention. By carrying out “research” in their spare time, networking
with neighbors, and above all, criticizing administrators and board offi-
cials during public meetings, these parents provided their children with
a lesson in how to influence the workings of a large, bureaucratic institu-
tion. In this sense, the redistricting conflicts have direct implications for
the reproduction of stratification.
We hope that our research can serve as a springboard for further re-
search—both quantitative and qualitative—on elite public schools and
districts. In a society in which economic segregation is intensifying and
in which schooling plays such a critical role in mediating the relation
between social origins and destinations, it is imperative that researchers
delve into this institution in all its varied manifestations.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of The Spencer

Foundation as well as resources provided by the University of Pennsylvania
and SUNY College at Brockport. A much earlier version of this paper
was presented at the American Educational Research Association an-
nual meeting in 2009. The paper benefited from the feedback of Maia
Cucchiara, Shelley Kimmelberg, Judith Levine, and Karolyn Tyson, as
well as anonymous reviewers and the audiences at Emory University,
Northwestern University, University of Kansas, and New York University.
Julie Bachorski, Devin Barney, Samantha Chudyk, Rebecca Holtz, Alexis
Kim, Alina Tulloch, and Aya Yagi provided valuable research assistance.
All errors are, of course, the responsibility of the authors.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)


1. This may represent a significant change from the situation that prevailed in
the past (resulting, presumably, from increased segregation). Consider, for exam-
ple, these remarks from research published in the 1960s:
The wide array of interests represented by parents with children at different
levels in the school system, located in different buildings, and representing
different class and ethnic groups rarely permits a sizable portion of school pa-
trons to organize around any particular grievance concerning their children’s
education. Many of the grievances which do emerge, moreover, are carried to
the teacher or to the building principal, and sometimes to the PTA [rather
than to the district level]. (Kerr, 1964)
2. In addition to Bourdieu (1986), see Lareau and Weininger (2003) on the
theory of cultural capital and Lin (2002) on the theory of social capital. We note
in passing that there are sociological studies which address related phenomena.
For example, Sampson (2012) argues that neighborhoods in which members have
shared feelings of social cohesion or trust and willingness to engage collectively
in social control exhibit positive outcomes in terms of health, altruistic behavior,
crime, and other social goods. The case we analyze here, however, hinges on the
pooling of resources that are highly class-specific.
3. We see qualitative studies to be about the meaning of socially-embedded in-
teraction. Hence we seek to highlight conceptual issues which are worthy of addi-
tional attention (Burawoy, 1998). Since the focus is on the interactional processes
and the patterns that emerge from these processes, our analysis relies primarily on
quotes which appear to us to capture the key themes strongly represented in the
primary data sources. Of course, it is also extremely difficult to know how many
parents exemplified a particular pattern, especially since parents’ positions and
actions shifted as the school district introduced (and withdrew) different plans
by which families would be redistricted. Hence, we have often used terms such as
“some” parents in our discussion. Following a wide variety of qualitative research-
ers, we have sought disconfirming evidence for our conclusions.
4. At the forums we attended, the core values that resulted from this process
tended to be quite similar. At one meeting, for example, the list was as follows:
walking distance, academic achievement and quality, parental engagement/in-
volvement, community, neighborhoods, diversity, continuity/stability in schools,
proximity to [central city] (arts, culture, sports).
5. There appeared to be a substantial gender imbalance in parents’ participa-
tion in interventions around redistricting, with mothers considerably more active
than fathers. However, this topic is beyond the scope of our analysis. For a discus-
sion of the gender division of labor and schooling, see Griffith and Smith (2004).
6. We analyzed complete transcripts of three board meetings at which comments
were invited from the public in order to determine how frequently speakers invoked
expertise in order to challenge a redistricting plan. Specifically, we searched for
mentions of “research,” “studies,” “experts,” “peer reviewed,” and “data.” Between
75 and 105 people spoke at each of these meetings. The frequency of invocations of
expertise ranged from 5% of speakers at one meeting to 22% at another.

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

7. Ms. Lannon introduced the term “sense of entitlement” into the interview.
The researcher did not use the term in any of the interview questions.
8. Readers and reviewers raised important questions about of the role of race
in these processes. Two issues surfaced. One concerns the core argument in the
paper on the ways that parents made use of their cultural, social, and symbolic
capital. The question is if there were racial differences in parents’ use of these
resources. Unfortunately, however, our main sources of data—the letters, listserv
posts, and board meetings transcriptions—do not contain information on the
background characteristics of writers/speakers (unless they chose to include these
in their remarks). Although our observations did not reveal differences in the ways
that African American and white parents utilized social networks and displayed a
sense of entitlement, our lack of systematic information on the race of writers/
speakers unfortunately precludes us from drawing a firm conclusion.
A second set of questions touch on issues which are more peripheral to the
paper: the criteria the district used in shaping the redistricting plan and whether
it was racially biased. Briefly, district officials asserted that they considered racial
and ethnic diversity to be a “core value,” but also claimed to be balancing compet-
ing priorities. The district revised its plan numerous times in response to parental
complaints. The fourth (and final) version of the plan required a large proportion
of students in the Oaksboro community to be bused to Southfield. Many Oaksboro
families felt that this plan disproportionately placed the burden of redistricting
on African American families, since they tended to live in this community. As with
other aspects of this case, we are not able to assess whether and how biases may
have entered into the formulation of different plans by district officials. But, the
final plan was introduced nine months into the redistricting battle, after there
had already been numerous protests at board meetings, thousands of emails and
letters sent to the district, petitions circulated, and many listservs created. Hence,
parents’ actions to thwart the district were well underway before the (bitter) com-
plaints of the Oaksboro community occurred.
Finally, we wish to note that the same data limitations which prevent us from
analyzing racial differences in parents’ actions also apply with regard to social
class. Kingsley is overwhelmingly inhabited by middle-class and upper-middle-class
families, but does contain some working-class residents (i.e., around 8% of the
students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch). While we would very much like
to be able to examine whether and how class relates to parents’ propensity to be
involved in the redistricting battles, it is not feasible, given the nature of the data.
9. The superintendent, for example, reported that over a 4-month period, be-
tween 70% and 80% of his working time was devoted to redistricting. Other key
administrators, such as the public relations officer and the district’s chief counsel,
were heavily involved as well.
10. We were initially told that the district received 8,000 emails. Many of these,
however, were duplicates: parents copied other parents and spouses, resent emails,
and submitted them through multiple channels. Thus, while there were only 3,000
unique emailed messages, the district nevertheless needed to sort, record, and file
many more.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

11. Of course, elite districts are not the only districts to experience paren-
tal protest. For example, urban districts proposing school closures also have
triggered waves of protests. Although beyond the scope of this article, parent
mobilization in these urban protests appears to have a different character. For
example, while mobilization in these cases involves parents and other commu-
nity members, it also often involves significant participation from nonprofits and
community organizations.
12. Our findings thus suggest an extension of Lareau’s (2011) concept of “con-
certed cultivation.” Like the parents described by Lareau, the residents of Kingsley
exhibited a definite propensity to intervene in the operations of institutions that
serve their children. However, in the case of Kingsley, these interventions were
not carried out solely on an individual basis, and their goal was not simply to alter
the institutional experiences of an individual child. Rather, parents were trying to
change rules that impacted all of the children in an institution.

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Table A1. Coding Scheme and Examples of Code Use

Codesa Application Notes and Examples of Use
Tone Tone 1–6 code applied to each letter, email, or speech to the
1: Support School Board to indicate its overall tone in relation to the District’s
2: Predominantly plan
3: Only neutral
4: Predominantly
5: Opposition
6: Asks question(s)
Hostile/Harsh Examples of “Hostile/Harsh” code use:
“I hope that the public comment meetings are not just for show
and that you might possibly listen to our opinions and make a
change to the proposed plan. I believe the impact on these teenag-
ers has been brushed under the rug. We don’t pay taxes and vote to
be ignored.”
“There has been talk of the need to have the plan be ‘transparent.’”
To my eyes, what is transparent is the willingness of the School
Board and the Superintendent to sacrifice the children, families,
and community of Morrisville for some alleged greater good.”
Issues Mentionedb
Walkability Examples of “Walkability” code use:
“Walking has always been the primary mode of transportation for
students in the Oaksboro area.”
“I very rarely see anyone walking to school in the winter months.
Walkability should not be the deciding factor in redistricting.”
Bus/car ride Examples of “Bus/car ride” code use:
“I also do not think that if a child is bused to an elementary school
or a middle school should have any bearing on whether they are
bused or walk to a high school. I think that it is completely irrel-
evant how many bus rides you’ve had.”
“Currently my child attends [name of elementary school] and he
spends 30 minutes on the bus each day each way. Irrespective of
where we are districted for middle school, my kids will ride the bus
for longer than 30 minutes each day each way.”

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Codesa Application Notes and Examples of Use

Lack of public Examples of “Lack of public transportation” code use:
transportation “These students have no access via walking to public transportation
should their educational extracurricular activities not jive with the
bus schedule. They don’t have the alternative transportation safety
nets as the economically more fortunate.”
“I know it’s difficult maybe for some of you Board members to
understand that in some households there’s only one car, and in
my family we only have one car, so it would be very difficult for me
to get back and forth [to my child’s school].”
Not everyone has Examples of “Not everyone has a car” code use:
a car “You can’t safely walk from Southfield High School if you miss that
5:15 bus, there’s no sidewalks. So what do you do for those students
and those parents who don’t drive?”
“Have you considered the fact that there is no transportation avail-
able to Southfield High School if you do not have a vehicle?”
Continuity Examples of “Continuity” code use:
“I have to say that K-12 continuity is the only value that can be given
to every child in this school district. It has the highest impact to
insure the best education.”
“Regarding continuity, my experience tells me that continuity is
important….I would ask the School Board to maybe review the re-
search and formulate and publish a position for the district around
Friends, peers, Examples of “Friends, peers, social support” code use:
social support “As an example, my older daughter in 7th grade has her two best
friends just a few blocks away. She has known these girls since
preschool….She will be devastated if after being with them for 11
years, she finds that they are separated and now attending different
“I hope the Board will realize how important it is to the social well-
being of the children to not pull this tiny group of children away
from their friends and their social network.”
Race/Diversity Examples of “Race/Diversity” code use:
“It is important for Asian-American kids to be kept together.”
“I admire the Board’s attempt to create a more varied student body
and am glad that my children will have the opportunity to learn
and grow with people different from themselves.”
Unfair Examples of “Unfair” code use:
“It doesn’t seem fair that the Southfield children have to endure
longer bus rides so that the Kingsley walkers can be bused to
“The main issue with the current plan is that a small percentage of
residents have to shoulder 100% of the burden K-12.”

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

Codesa Application Notes and Examples of Use

Community Examples of “Community” code use:
“I want to emphasize the word ‘community.’ We are each con-
cerned with our own local community, but focusing only on our
own concerns in this process and only our own children has served
to divide us and leave our community weaker as a whole.”
“I hear people speaking often and passionately, but mostly the
common theme amongst them is community and it’s obvious
and commendable how important it is to all of us in all of our
Property values/ Examples of “Property values/taxes” code use:
taxes “If you want me to put my business CFO hat on for a second: if you
could do this, and I’ve talked to a lot of people, you’re going to
drive down property values; you’re going to drive down your tax
“The loss of access to a neighborhood school will impact property
values. The fact that our house was within walking distance of
Kingsley High was a key factor in our purchase, and I’m sure this
was a consideration of others who bought in this area and prospec-
tive buyers. I am planning to petition for a tax reassessment should
the reduced walking zone be adopted and hope that those that are
affected will join me in this protest.”
Alumnus/-a Examples of “Alumnus/-a” code use:
“My daughter comes from a legacy of Kingsley High graduates. She
will have been a third-generation graduate, and they all walked [to
“I also attended the Kingsley public schools. I began in kindergar-
ten and I graduated from Kingsley High School in 1980.”
School programs Examples of “School programs” code use:
“The other night the Superintendent was saying that they had to
actually cancel AP, I think, Biology in Southfield because there
weren’t enough students to take it.”
“I want to address something that no one’s addressed yet and that’s
the really innovative programs that [the superintendent] and the
administration have proposed as incentives for Southfield High….
My prediction is that they’re going to attract more than 10 students
a year.”
After-school Examples of “After-school activities” code use:
activities “The majority of parents in our community, work and it would be
causing a hardship for parents whose kids want to participate in
after-school sports and activities if they miss the 5:30 bus.”
“Busing the children from Oaksboro to Southfield High is a prob-
lem for parents who don’t own vehicles or have access to transpor-
tation to Southfield. What you’re saying to our community is you
don’t care if our kids can’t participate in sports, school musicals or
drama, et cetera if it runs after 5:30 p.m.”

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Codesa Application Notes and Examples of Use

Mobilization c
Examples of “Mobilization” code use:
“I’ve asked about 6 people over to my house tomorrow to talk about
getting our petition going.”
“We are organizing an inter-neighborhood meeting for Sun morn-
ing and we need someone from Morrisville to join us. Anyone on
the listserv who can do this? Anyone know anyone who can? Please
let me know.”
Entitlement Expressed
Expertise claimed Examples of “Expertise claimed” code use:
“As a licensed child psychologist, I know only too well the effect
the sudden interruption in a child’s schedule can have on his/her
“I measured the commute from my neighborhood to and from
Southfield high school during rush hour (you will find my results
in the chart below). I have also attached some studies on the down-
side of extended traveling on school children.”
Offers own/alter- Examples of “Offers own/alternate proposal” code use:
nate proposal “I’d like to throw out a radical idea to you that no one’s really
discussed….If we find some way to put more kids into Kingsley than
to Southfield, that may solve the problem….You do that by making
it three grades rather than four….Then what you have to do is you
have to go back and you have to increase the elementary schools.”
“This is, by far, my top choice, but if this has to change with the
redistricting, this is what I would propose an alternative option:
and this is a 3-1-2-2 plan….three elementary schools funnel into
one middle school with both those middle schools funneling into
a single high school being a 9th and 10th grade building, Southfield,
and then going to an 11th and 12th grade building, Kingsley.”
Attitude toward Examples of “Attitude” code use:
District Board “Why is it that plan after plan lacks cohesion and direction?
Challenging Common sense really is hard to come by these days.” [Challenging]
Cooperative “You have done a commendable job managing this task so far. Feel
free to contact me if ever you need my services.” [Cooperative]
Copies principal/ Applied if the writer copied the principal, superintendent, or any
newspaper media outlets on their letter/email
Individualism Examples of “Individualism expressed” code use:
expressed “No one has the right to uproot my family.” [Protects own family/
Protects own kids]
family/kids “I am appalled and disgusted by parents who arrogantly place their
Critiques others’ own needs before those of others in the community.” [Critiques
individualistic others’ individualistic actions]
actions “Why is [neighborhood X] being thrown under the bus while
Offers up another [neighborhood Y] has all its demands met?” [Offers up another
neighborhood neighborhood]

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

Codesa Application Notes and Examples of Use

Sense of Examples of “Sense of entitlement-other” code use:
entitlement-other “It has now been several months since this redistricting project
began and still no progress has been made. Public comment meet-
ings—much like the supposed ‘non-negotiables’—have proven to
be useless.”
“I strongly disapprove of the use of my tax dollars to pay an ‘expert’
consultant, when I could draw up a more sensible plan myself.”
Additional codes applied to each document indicated the following: date of the
email, letter, or post, self-identified role of the writer (parent, nonparent, un-
known), neighborhood in which the writer lives, and/or school attended by the
writer’s child.
For each Issue Mentioned code applied, subcodes were used to indicate whether
the writer portrayed the issue as an important or unimportant factor to be taken
into account in the redistricting plans.
Since emails and letters to the District did not include discussion of parents’ mo-
bilization in support of or opposition to the District’s plans, the Mobilization code
was only used to code the posts on the online discussion groups including posts
which asked parents to attend an event, wear a particular color, or get others to
sign petitions.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

Table A2. Sample Listserv and Board Meeting Transcript Coding

Post to Listserv Codes Applied
Subject: What now?
Now that the big Oct 25 meeting has taken place, with a Stance: Opposition
resounding NO to the second draft, what is the best way
for us to keep up the pressure? -Tom Johnson, Hollow Rd.
Re: What now?
I believe the school board will hear substantive ideas Stance: Opposition
about how to change plan 2 more clearly than statements Issue: Bus ride
about the effects of this plan on our kids & community. Issue: Mobilization
The school board members at the meeting last night ap- Issue: Walkability
peared immune to sweeping statements about community
and very specific statements about individual kids. It
shouldn’t be this way but that’s the reality. What really got
their attention (roughly measured by whether they took
notes) were concrete proposals like bus collection points,
swapping Morrisville for Oak Park in the feeder patterns,
refining the meaning of walkability. Although it isn’t our
job to fix the plan, in effect it has become our task if we
want to be heard. So let’s crunch numbers, scrutinize the
maps and think creatively to come up with substantive
proposals aimed at obtaining a better, more equitable
solution to this problem.

TCR, 120, 010303 Parental Challenges to Organizational Authority in an Elite School District

Excerpt from Board Meeting Transcript Codes Applied

Good evening. My name is Jason Lewis. I live at the inter- Stance: Opposition
section of Maple and Springfield Avenue in Oaksboro. Hostile/Harsh
It’s about .6 miles from this building. I walked here this Issue: Walkability
evening in the cold and the rain. It took 12 minutes. Entitlement Expressed:
It was very easy. As one of the other gentlemen said, Offers own/alternative
bicycle, it’s easy to access this building from Oaksboro. proposal
I’ve decided to speak this evening in two points to oppose Attitude toward District
[the District’s] plan three as it’s presented and to express Board: Challenging
my ongoing bewilderment relative to the process in that
each of these plans, one, two, and three, have in my
view become more and more absurd. I mean, here you
have as we’ve said: hundreds of children who can walk
to this building and we’re going to put them on a bus to
Southfield? It makes no sense on any level. To comment
or respond to a remark that was offered earlier that some
of us like to walk to a pizza shop and that’s great: well
walkability and a pedestrian-oriented lifestyle is about
much more than walking to a pizza shop—with all due
respect to the earlier speaker. It’s about an entire lifestyle
that everyone has commented on here this evening, and
it’s not something here that people in Oaksboro and
Morrisville are interested in. It’s something that’s a devel-
oping, national trend, again across the country for the last
10 or 15 years. Organizations, the Urban Land Institute,
the American Planning Association, National Education
Association, national policy making bodies have endorsed
and supported the concepts behind a [inaudible]-
oriented lifestyle. So for this board to go in a direction
that’s opposite of that, particularly in these economic
and these environmental times, is totally absurd. Again,
please oppose plan three. Take it off the table. There has
to be other options. I think the current walk zone which
ends at Springfield in Oaksboro should be expanded to
Edgefield Road. [applause] I think the walk zone should
be expanded [bell rings] to include all of north Oaksboro
all of south Oaksboro. Thank you very much.

Teachers College Record, 120, 010303 (2018)

ANNETTE LAREAU is the Stanley I. Sheerr Professor in the Department

of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Unequal
Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life as well as Home Advantage. She is also
the coeditor (with Dalton Conley) of Social Class: How Does it Work? and
(with Kimberly Goyette) of Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools. Annette
Lareau is a Past President of the American Sociological Association.

ELLIOT B. WEININGER is Associate Professor of Sociology at SUNY

College at Brockport. He has published on the theoretical foundations
of the concept of social class, as well as cultural and social capital. More
recent work has addressed the ways that parents select schools for their
children in districts with school choice programs and the role of schooling
considerations in families’ residential mobility.

AMANDA BARRETT COX is a Ph.D. student in the Department of

Sociology and the Graduate School of Education at the University of
Pennsylvania. Her research interests include organizations, economic
elites, and social networks. Recent articles from her ethnographic study
of a program that prepares low-income students of color to attend elite
boarding schools include “Mechanisms of Organizational Commitment:
Adding Frames to Greedy Institution Theory” in Sociological Forum and
“Correcting Behaviors and Policing Emotions: How Behavioral Infractions
Become Feeling-Rule Violations” in Symbolic Interaction.