A Case of Youth Navigating Structures of Opportunity in a Chicago Public Military Academy
thesisposted on 12.07.2013, 00:00 by Heather L. Horsley
What do public military academies contribute to school reform? In Chicago as in large urban centers nationwide, public high schools and charter schools are experimenting with different approaches to college preparation. One promising approach intended to improve the academic and social readiness of low-income students of color is to offer them youth leadership development opportunities. The purposes of this study are: 1) to provide empirical research on an emerging school reform model that has been largely scrutinized only theoretically by both proponents and opponents of the public military model of education, and 2) to complicate the assessment of the relative contribution of the public military academies by studying the meaning of opportunity from the perspective of those most affected, i.e. the school-aged youth who are provided and denied a wide range of educational opportunities. This qualitative case study uses student survey data to complement a qualitative design focusing on the educational opportunities provided to low-income and minority youth attending a Chicago Public Military Academy (Chicago PMA), a military themed public high school. Specifically, how does providing Chicago PMA students with college preparation and leadership education shape their sense of opportunity and their view of how race and gender intersect with their school experiences? The study finds that students experience the PMA as an effective opportunity to develop leadership experience and to prepare for post-secondary education. The student construction of opportunity is analyzed within a critical perspective that examines how opportunity is itself constructed within political-economic and ideological constraints.