Managing the Brand: Racial Politics, Strategic Messaging, and the Coalition-Building Efforts of Charter Management Organizations
Laura Hernández

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California

Primary Discipline

Policymakers and reformers have increasingly advocated to scale up the number of high quality charter schools to improve educational opportunities for communities of color. While many endorse charters as a means to address inequities, politics, or the manner in which power relations are enacted and asserted in the charter context, may complicate the degree to which charters advance educational equity. As charters engage in strategic behaviors to secure resources, they persuade and interact with various stakeholders to build coalitions supporting their institutional presence. These behaviors occur within local contexts characterized by unique political, economic, and racial dynamics that can affect how power and influence work at the local level. This study focuses centrally on these coalition-building efforts. In this qualitative case study, I employ an interdisciplinary framework synthesizing concepts from political science and sociology to explore the political and racial dynamics of efforts implemented by charter management organizations (CMOs)—nonprofits with the specific mission of replicating ‘what works’ across a network of schools. I examine how CMOs relationally and discursively engage various stakeholders, how local politics and racial histories intersect with CMO efforts, and how CMOs acknowledge and address race throughout the process. I analyze CMO strategies and stakeholder perceptions of the CMOs operating in one urban district along with an in-depth analysis of three nested organizations who vary distinctively in organizational status to consider how their efforts to sustain or grow their brand affects coalition building and relationships with stakeholders. With this analysis, I draw more scholarly attention to this growing actor in education and the manner in which local politics may complicate or ease ongoing efforts to increase educational opportunities for marginalized racial groups.
About Laura Hernández
Laura E. Hernández is a doctoral candidate in the Policy, Organizations, Measurement, & Evaluation program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on the racial politics of K-12 reform and its implications for educational equity and democracy. Her upcoming dissertation investigates the political and racial dynamics surrounding charter management organizations (CMO). She explores various perceptions of CMOs operating in one urban district, noting the material, relational, and discursive strategies CMOs use to foster coalitions comprised of various stakeholders and racial groups. Before entering the doctoral program, Laura worked as an elementary and middle school teacher for nine years in Los Angeles and New York City, working in both traditional public and charter school settings. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles and a M.S. in Teaching from Pace University.

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