Middle Class African American Parents’ Aspirations for Rigor and Reading Curriculum During the Pandemic Era in Detroit Schools

Dr. Hill is a Professor of Reading and Language Arts in the College of Education, Health, and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. You can learn more about Dr. Hill here.


Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) made headlines in local media outlets during the pandemic for reporting about its most vulnerable students and students of color who were disengaged from virtual learning, experienced learning loss, and opportunity gaps. Moreover, families who struggled to balance work demands with remote learning were additionally featured in headlines (French, 2021; Higgins & Catolico, 2020; Wisely, 2020). Much was reported about middle class families who mitigated gaps by forming learning pods and home and school connections (French, 2021; Higgins & Catolico, 2020; Wisely, 2020).  Conversely,  African American middle class families and their participation in learning pods and virtual learning practices were largely unexplored.

My recent publication, Middle Class African American Parents’ Aspirations for Rigor and Reading Curriculum during the Pandemic Era in Detroit Schools in the Journal of Advanced Academics, is embedded in a 10-year longitudinal study about school choice in Detroit (abstract below). In this study I documented African American families who expressed a preference for culturally sustaining literacy practices, while assuming a position of Black parent protectionism, defined as parental involvement roles that protect Black children from racial maltreatment at school and traditionally racist institutions (Mazuma & Lindy, 2012). Expectations for literacy practices were informed by participating in a social network and daytime school visits before pandemic school closures. While these activities supported knowledge about innovative, balanced literacy practices and disciplinary literacy prior to enrolling in school, the pivot to virtual learning upon enrolling in school differed from their initial expectations. Parental participation in virtual literacy practices and in learning pods helped to mitigate the uncertainty. Moreover, participation in the social network became a space for checking in as a source of solace, sharing how schools affirmed children’s racialized identities, and planning for shared activities outside of school that centered around rites of passage, to ensure affirmation of racialized identities in society.



French, R. (2021). Blank screens, distracted students: Michigan teachers on Covid classrooms. Retrieved from https://www.bridgemi.com/talent-education/blank-screens-distracted-students-michigan-teachers-covid-classrooms.

Higgins, L. & Catolico, E. (2020). As teachers brace for students’ learning losses, many worry about the impact on Michigan’s most vulnerable students. Retrieved from https://detroit.chalkbeat.org/2020/8/25/21401217/as-teachers-brace-for-student-learning-losses-many-worry-impact-on-michigan-most-vulnerable-students.’

Mazama, A., Y Lundy, G. (2012). African American homeschooling as racial protectionism. Journal of Black Studies, 43(7), 723 - 748.

Wisely, J. (2020). As schools shift lessons online, experts fear some kids may be left behind.Retrieved from https://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2020/03/19/coronavirus-schools-online-student-unequal-access/5071006002/


Abstract: This community-based research study examined the perspectives of African American parents of middle-class economic status who participated in a social network pertaining to school choice decisions during the pandemic era of virtual schooling. Their residency and school choices emerged against the grain of urban schools that have racially charged histories and decades of residential mobility trends. I examined parents’ aspirations for academic rigor and perspectives of literacy practices at select schools as well as public school district official perspectives of supporting the enrollment process and attracting families to the district. Parent interview and survey data revealed confidence in public, private, and charter school selections prior to enrolling, but uncertainty with the virtual literacy curriculum once enrolled in school. School district official interviews revealed enhanced awareness of parents’ concerns surrounding school choice and need to be proactive to the needs of middle-class families.