Can gentry's video prompt poor parents to perfect schools?

On our Facebook page, a subscriber named Marc recently asked, "Can low income African American parents transform their neighborhood school like the parents of the Nettelhorst school?" He included a link to a 13-minute video (posted on YouTube) that describes how local parents helped improve the North Side's Nettelhorst Elementary School, at Broadway and Belmont.

My reaction: If they had similar resources, maybe.

The video features Jacqueline Edelberg, a mother in the neighborhood of Nettelhorst who sought a school to which she could eventually send her young kids. She and another mom toured the nearby Nettelhorst, but found it lacking.

Speaking in the video of what led her to organize local parents to help improve Nettelhorst, Edelberg recalls, "My husband said, 'You're not working now, go make yourself useful.' "

That comment underlines what's clear from the video: Edelberg—as well as the parents she helped organize—have spouses, stable income, and good education. I don't think this holds true for many parents of Chicago's public-school students.

Among those who've written about this disparity of resources is the Chicago Reader's Steve Bogira, particularly in his recent, multi-part series on the inequities of Chicago public schools.

In an article titled "Three families tell us why they ditched CPS" that appeared on Sept. 26, 2013, Bogira writes, "Middle-class parents tend to be zealous advocates. They're more likely to know an alderman or a reporter, and make noise about a problem their children's school is facing."

Bogira's article features parents who, like many others, spurned Chicago for the suburbs so their kids could go to good schools. In the article, a parent named Sue opines about the challenges faced by the parents in her former North Park neighborhood, which is populated by many low-income Asian immigrants: "You really didn't get those ethnic groups to participate [in their children's schools], because they're out of their comfort zone, or they're out working numerous jobs, or they don't understand English."

In an earlier article, Bogira quotes from an essay by Richard Kahlenberg that appeared in the journal American Educator. In middle-class schools, Kahlenberg wrote, parents volunteer more often "and know how to hold school officials accountable when things go wrong."

I don't mean to imply that one can't mobilize parents who live in poverty, have a low level of education, and/or lead stressful lives. In fact, such efforts exist—like the Parent Mentor Program of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which specifically targets parents in low-income communities.

But you can't just show low-income parents a video by their middle-class counterparts and say, "Go do this."