Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Gabriel Reich


This study considers the contested meaning of public education through a qualitative investigation of Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, a charter elementary school in Richmond, Virginia. The central research question that guides this study is “How do parents construct the idea of public schools as they explain their choice of Patrick Henry Charter School?” To answer this question I conducted a constructivist inquiry that involved a series of 16 semi-structured interviews with a maximum variation sample of Patrick Henry parents concerning their ideas about the school and about public education. The analysis of these interviews led to a grounded theory of the parents’ ideas as well as a case report constructed from the categorized units of data that explores the core themes of the theory. This study also addresses two sub-questions: (1) “How do the parents’ ideas about public schools reflect the logics embedded in the larger policy discourses concerning charters and the reinvention of public education?” and (2) “How do the parents’ ideas about public schools reflect the local public discourse around the public-ness of the school?” To answer the first sub-question I use my review of literature to develop an understanding of the reform debates around charter schools and their relationship to the contested ideas of public education. To answer sub question two, I present an adapted constructivist qualitative analysis of the public discourse that surrounded the school from April 2007 – when the idea of the school was first proposed at a school board meeting – until December 2011 – a year and a half after the school opened its doors. To capture the public discourse I collected and analyzed articles, editorials and letters from six local print publications (newspapers, weekly magazines) as well as the public comment portion of the minutes from Richmond School Board meetings. This analysis resulted in the construction of two competing narratives about the school, the juxtaposition of which shed light on the how idea of public-ness was constructed in the public discourse.


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Date of Submission

April 2014

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