Black Social Capital

The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore, 1986-1999

Marion Orr

Deindustrialization, white flight, and inner city poverty have spelled trouble for Baltimore schools. Marion Orr now examines why school reform has been difficult to achieve there, revealing the struggles of civic leaders and the limitations placed on Baltimore's African-American community as each has tried to rescue a failing school system.

Examining the interplay between government and society, Orr presents the first systematic analysis of social capital both within the African-American community ("black social capital") and outside it where social capital crosses racial lines. Orr shows that while black social capital may have created solidarity against white domination in Baltimore, it hampered African-American leaders' capacity to enlist the cooperation from white corporate elites and suburban residents needed for school reform.

“Among the book’s strengths are its treatment of many subjects of interest, including race, poverty, city politics, and black politics.

—Perspectives on Political Science

“A significant contribution to the growing literature on the politics of urban education. School reform advocates who embrace privatization as a panacea or who think social capital by itself should cure what ails our urban public schools will think twice after they read this important book.”

—Richard DeLeon, author of Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco, 1975–1991

See all reviews...

Orr examines social capital at the neighborhood level, in elite-level interactions, and in intergovernmental relations to argue that black social capital doesn't necessarily translate into the kind of intergroup coalition needed to bring about school reform. He also includes an extensive historical survey of the black community, showing how distrust engendered by past black experiences has hampered the formation of significant intergroup social capital.

The book features case studies of school reform activity, including the first analysis of the politics surrounding Baltimore's decision to hire a private, for-profit firm to operate nine of its public schools. These cases illuminate the paradoxical aspects of black social capital in citywide school reform while offering critical perspectives on current debates about privatization, site-based management, and other reform alternatives.

Orr's book challenges those who argue that social capital alone can solve fundamentally political problems by purely social means and questions the efficacy of either privatization or black community power to reform urban schools. Black Social Capital offers a cogent conceptual synthesis of social capital theory and urban regime theory that demonstrates the importance of government, politics, and leadership in converting social capital into a resource that can be mobilized for effective social change.

About the Author

Marion Orr is associate professor of political science and urban studies at Brown University and coauthor of The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series