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A Good Investment?

Philanthropy and the Marketing of Race in an Urban Public School

2015
Author:

Amy Brown

A Good Investment?

How privatized education funding reinforces race and class inequities

How much does competition for financing in urban public schools depend on marketing in order to thrive? Amy Brown offers a firsthand look behind the scenes of the philanthropic approach to funding public education.

A Good Investment? is a well-developed and well-executed ethnography. Amy Brown’s ability to tell a broad story about the privatization and marketization, as well as their enactment, of public schooling is exemplary.

Jill Koyama, University of Arizona

Select students and teachers worked the room at a fundraising event for a New York City public high school Amy Brown calls College Preparatory Academy. It was their job to convince wealthy attendants that College Prep, with its largely minority and disadvantaged student body and its unusually high rate of graduation and college acceptance, was a worthy investment. To this end, students and teachers tried to seem needy and deserving, hoping to make supporters feel generous, important, and not threatened. How much, Brown asks, does competition for financing in urban public schools depend on marketing and perpetuating poverty in order to thrive? And are the actors in this drama deliberately playing up stereotypes of race and class?

A Good Investment? offers a firsthand look behind the scenes of the philanthropic approach to funding public education—a process in which social change in education policy and practice is aligned with social entrepreneurship. The appearance of success, equity, or justice in education, Brown argues, might actually serve to maintain stark inequalities and inhibit democracy. Her book shows that models of corporate or philanthropic charity in education can in fact reinforce the race and class hierarchies that they purport to alleviate.

As their voices reveal, the teachers and students on the receiving end of such a system can be critically conscious and ambivalent participants in a school’s racialized marketing and image management. Timely and provocative, this nuanced work exposes the unintended consequences of an education marketplace where charity masquerades as justice.

A Good Investment?

Amy Brown is an educational anthropologist and a faculty member in the Critical Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

A Good Investment?

A Good Investment? is a well-developed and well-executed ethnography. Amy Brown’s ability to tell a broad story about the privatization and marketization, as well as their enactment, of public schooling is exemplary.

Jill Koyama, University of Arizona

A Good Investment? makes clear that philanthropic solutions can’t fix urban education. Only a groundswell of activism can.

Truthout

The book, which should interest readers in a wide variety of disciplines, is a good contribution to this ongoing, important debate related to urban public education today.

CHOICE

A Good Investment?

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Privatization and Political Spectacle in Education
1. A Mind Is a Wonderful Thing to Invest In: Philanthropy and the New York City Public Schools
2. The College Prep Look: Managing Image, Marketing Students
3. Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk: Professionalism at College Prep
4. Waiting for Superwoman: White Female Teachers as “Neoliberal Saviors”
5. Girl Drama: Black Female Students and the Spectacle of Risk
6. Critical Thinking: Reading Urban Fiction with Students
7. Behind the Mask: Professionalism and Life after College Prep
Afterword: Beyond the Spectacle
Appendix A: Producing Knowledge through Qualitative Research Methods
Appendix B: 2010 College Prep Student Questionnaire
Notes
Bibliography
Index