Diverse Families, Desirable Schools
Mira Debs, executive director of the Education Studies Program and lecturer in sociology
(Harvard Education Press)
In “Diverse Families, Desirable Schools,” Mira Debs offers a detailed study of public Montessori schools, which make up the largest group of progressive schools in the public sector. As public Montessori schools expand rapidly as alternatives to traditional public schools, the story of these schools, Debs points out, is a microcosm of the broader conflicts around public school choice.
Drawing on historical research, interviews with public Montessori educators, and ethnographic case studies, Debs explores the forces that pull intentionally diverse, progressive schools toward elitism. At the heart of her book is an analysis of the notion of “fit” between parents and schools — an idea that is central to school choice, which is often marketed as an opportunity for parents to find the perfect fit for their kids. By exploring parents’ varied motivations in choosing these schools and observing how families experience — or fail to experience — a “good fit” after having chosen a particular school, Debs contributes to the literature on school choice and sheds light on the dilemmas entailed in maintaining diversity in progressive charter and magnet schools.