School Choice, School Culture and Social Justice: A Canadian Case Study

David Ball, Darren Lund


This paper reports on findings from a case study conducted in a public school offering multiple programs of choice. A guiding purpose of the study was to analyze the impact of operating multiple programs of choice in a single school setting on the organizational and lived culture of the school. The urban Alberta school under study offered alternative educational programs in science, Mandarin Immersion, special education and “regular” programs. Multiple methods of data collection followed an ethnographic approach, and included document and policy analysis, field observations, focus groups and semi-structured interviews with administrators, parents, teachers and students from each of the programs. The results reported here focus on related themes of equity and social justice related to analyses of school choice, attending specifically to participants’ understandings of power and privilege, with policy and practice implications. Themes included social class stratifications, marginalization within advantage, perceptions of disempowerment, fragmented school identity, limitations of choice programs, and perceptions of teaching staff quality.

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