‘We all want what’s best for our kids’

Discussions of D.C. public school options in an online forum

A photo illustration displaying silhouettes of a mother and daughter, next to hands working on a computer, with the Washington, DC, flag in the background.

Combining data from the online parent forum, commonly known as “DC Urban Moms,” and publicly available school data, this paper explores how an online community, one that appears to be dominated by privileged parents, discusses its local school system.

The results suggest that if there is a market for schools in the District, the commenters on DC Urban Moms are participating in a highly segregated version of it. A large percentage of schools in the District are almost never discussed on the forum, and those rarely mentioned schools have higher rates of poverty and serve students that are almost exclusively Black. The inattention to these schools can be explained only in part by the city’s neighborhood segregation. Moreover, the wealthiest and whitest schools not only have more thorough consideration of their academic and extracurricular offerings, but conversations about these schools are also more likely to refer, rather than to demographic categories, to the people that make up the schools, using words like “moms,” “children,” “families,” and “teachers.” The individuals attending lesser-attention schools are thus doubly invisible to the DC Urban Moms participants. Finally, much of the discussion on the forum focuses on how to gain access to the relatively narrow band of preferred schools. The two mechanisms of school access, residence and the lottery, are not seen as competing strategies, but rather as systems to be used in tandem, in ways that give well-off parents repeated opportunities to self-segregate.

Though school diversity is no panacea for the societal ills that stem from centuries of systemic racism and economic exploitation, the findings present a challenge for opponents of school segregation—and its attendant resource hoarding—and for the hope of a more equal and integrated society.

>> Read the full paper here. <<