Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Teacher Education

Major Professor

Judson Laughter

Committee Members

Lisa Driscoll, Jennifer Morrow, Stergios Botzakis


For the better part of three decades, charter schools have been seen as a successful bipartisan solution to the difficulties plaguing the American education system. While much of the political rhetoric surrounding school choice suggests an overwhelming influence on public education and that it has either been a resounding success or a total failure, the reality is slightly more muddled. In order to see that muddled reality more clearly, in this dissertation I utilize qualitative case study methodology to investigate the ways in which neoliberal language manifests itself in the way three white, middle-class families in Tennessee perceive public and charter school quality, as well as discuss their overall opinions of American education. It was my hope that by studying the perceptions of parents regarding school quality and any neoliberal rhetoric that might affect these perceptions, I could begin to understand the politically charged rhetoric in support of and against school choice in comparison to what is actually important to the families dealing most with its existence. These three parents utilized three different methods of school choice in an effort to achieve the best possible public education for their children. These parents enrolled their child[ren] in a charter school, relocated to a new school zone, and/or utilized within district transfers. Overall, the parents held a high esteem for public education, in some cases working for years to find a high quality traditional public school for their children. Parents also displayed significant skepticism of charter schools and school choice reforms on a national level, but trusted these institutions and procedures when they had a proven, local record of success. That being said, these parents affirmed that their first choice for education would be a strong and robust traditional public school system, even if they were reticent to outright state an opposition to school choice. These findings suggest that parents would prefer more funding and effort be put in to fixing traditional public schools than enforcing and expanding school choice reforms informed by neoliberal economic theory.

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