Elementary principals’ social construction of parents of color and working class parents: Disrupting or reproducing conflicting and deficit orientations of education policy?


  • Melanie Bertrand Arizona State University http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8541-3653
  • Rhoda Freelon Spencer Foundation
  • John Rogers University of California, Los Angeles




Principals, Parents, Racism, Social Class


School principals, contending with competing characterizations of parents in education policy and society, may view parents in a number of ways. Two common understandings portray parents as authentic partners or, in contrast, simply supporters of the school’s agenda. This paper explores these characterizations by considering the possible link between principals’ understandings of parents and their approaches to parent engagement and/or shared decision making, especially in light of the ways that the social context and education policy construct parents of color and working class parents as deficient. We use the lens of social construction of target populations to add to the currently minimal literature that directly examines principals’ views of parents. We report findings of a multi-phase analysis of surveys of 667 elementary principals in the state of California and interviews with a subgroup of 34 of these principals. We explore how principals structured parent engagement and conceived of the goals and rationales for parent workshops, illustrating how they socially constructed the target population of parents, particularly parents of color and working class parents. We find that principals often constructed parents in terms of deficiencies and as needing to learn to better support school goals. Our findings have profound implications for advancing equity in schools.


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Author Biographies

Melanie Bertrand, Arizona State University

Melanie Bertrand is an assistant professor at Arizona State University. Her research explores the potential of student voice and youth participatory action research (YPAR) to improve schools and challenge systemic racism and other forms of oppression in education.

Rhoda Freelon, Spencer Foundation

Rhoda Freelon is a program officer with the Spencer Foundation. She received her PhD in education with a focus on urban schooling from University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests cover two interrelated areas—the causes of educational inequality and the role of parent and community engagement in equitable education reform.

John Rogers, University of California, Los Angeles

John Rogers is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.  He is Director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA and the Faculty Director of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Program, and professional development initiatives.  Rogers studies the relationship among democracy, education, and different forms of inequality.  He also has written widely on democratic participation and community organizing as strategies for advancing educational equity and civic renewal.  




How to Cite

Bertrand, M., Freelon, R., & Rogers, J. (2018). Elementary principals’ social construction of parents of color and working class parents: Disrupting or reproducing conflicting and deficit orientations of education policy?. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 102. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3546