Mothers are more likely than fathers to favor both school diversity and neighborhood schools, according to a new study on gender and school assignment conducted by N.C. State University.
The study also found that mothers are more likely to be concerned about challenges, danger and uncertainties of school assignments. And they were more fearful that a school reassignment would negatively affect their child’s learning or friendships.
“Mothers invest more emotional energy in children’s public school assignments and reassignments than fathers,” said Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at NCSU and lead researcher of the study. “We think that’s because they conceptualize this as part of their total responsibility of being good mothers and promoting their children’s well-being.”
For the study, researchers interviewed opinion leaders in Wake County, including current and former school board members and school activists, from 2010 to 2012. This group included individuals who favored diversity and those who favored neighborhood schools. The researchers also conducted two focus groups.
Survey participants were split nearly evenly between men and women. The researchers found that mothers favored diversity and neighborhood schools more than fathers, regardless of race, education, income or political affiliation.
Initially, supporting both diversity and neighborhood schools may seem to be a contradiction because the two positions can be portrayed as being in opposition, said Andy Taylor, professor of political science at NCSU and co-author of the study.
“A lot of people are conflicted and understand the value of both,” Taylor said. “Even people who identify as liberal or conservative understand the benefits of both.”
Translating both positions into policy is difficult, Taylor said.
“It’s hard to know, in a policy sense, how to mix them,” he said. “If we can find good policies of favoring both goals, it’s likely that there will be support from both political sides.”
The watershed election of 2009, which shifted majority control of the Wake County School Board from Democrats to Republicans, and the resulting actions and policies prompted the researchers’ investigation. In 2010, the board voted to remove socioeconomic diversity as a goal of the assignment policy, alternatively prioritizing families’ proximity to schools.
“We were interested in the political and sociological consequences of this change,” Taylor said.
The study is a spinoff of Parcel and Taylor’s deeper look into the ways diversity and neighborhood schools affect school assignment policy in “The End of Consensus,” a book published by UNC Press in 2015.
An obvious limitation of the study is that the survey focused on one county in North Carolina. Parcel and two other researchers recently launched a project studying school desegregation in five Southern cities—Raleigh; Charlotte; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Rock Hill, S.C.—after realizing that they had all been working on separate, similar projects.
“We hope that (the study results) are useful to the Wake County School Board, who are dealing with challenges about how to educate a lot of children with limited resources,” Parcel said. “Maybe before they come up with new reassignment policies, they should listen to and address the concerns of mothers.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler