Reframing Parent Involvement: PTOs and the Impact of Parent Collectives on Educational Opportunity
Brittany Murray

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Primary Discipline

Despite decades of education policies directed toward increasing minority parent involvement, white parents remain more involved and reap more educational benefits from their involvement than any other racial/ethnic group. In attempting to explain these patterns, scholars have primarily conceptualized parent involvement individually without measuring the impact of other children's parents in the educational process. My dissertation examines how collective processes among parents in school-based associations such as parent-teachers organizations (PTOs) contribute to persistent inequalities in relationships between families and schools and how those unequal relationships reinforce larger patterns of race- and class-based inequality in students' experiences in school. This mixed-methods study leverages qualitative data from observations of PTO meetings and semi-structured interviews with parents, teachers, and administrators nine NC elementary schools. These data are used to complement a unique quantitative data resource: Internal Revenue Service filings on North Carolina PTOs paired with administrative data on the schools they support. I ask how collective processes among parents in schools explain racial differences in individual parent involvement and how white parents mobilize collectively to alter the distribution of within-school resources and learning opportunities. Collectively, the contribution from these papers may advance the ways scholars operationalize parent involvement in schools by shifting from an individual to a collective framework in analyzing the predictors and implications of parent-school partnerships.
About Brittany Murray
Brittany Murray is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research examines the relationship between social and political processes in schools and educational inequality. She uses mixed methods to investigate the role of families and communities in shaping policy, resources, and learning opportunities for students. Her dissertation research combines tax data on school-based nonprofits, specifically parent-teacher organizations (PTOs), with school administrative data and stakeholder interviews to learn about the implications of collective forms of parent involvement for educational equity. Brittany has a sustained interest in transforming the ways researchers, practitioners, and communities use data to gain new insights into the social context of schools and neighborhoods. She is a recipient of a Russell Sage Foundation grant to pair PTO tax data with schools nationwide and investigate their relationship to district-level achievement gaps available in the Stanford Education Data Archive. Prior to entering graduate school, Brittany worked at the Urban Institute where her experiences engaging in community-based participatory research and survey administration culminated in a strategy to engage stakeholders in a data validation process known as ``Data Walks.`` These walks were designed to support researchers' ability to interpret survey results while also encouraging collective action among residents, service providers, and policymakers to identify and pose solutions to their most pervasive place-based challenges. Similarly, Brittany hopes to establish partnerships with parents, school boards, and PTOs to create more inclusive access to data and decision-making processes within schools and districts.

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