Thesis

Parent Revolution: a case study on "astroturfing" for school choice

This is a case study of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based, astroturf, education reform organization that the anti-union, pro-charter school Walton, Broad, and Gates Foundations primarily fund. Astroturf organizations manufacture public support for a corporate political agenda though appear to serve the public interest. This case study, in turn, examines the frames and tactics used to both appear grassroots and manufacture public support to attain macro-level policy changes implemented at individual schools. To date, seven academic studies have been published on astroturf organizations, primarily in the environmental and tea party movements. These studies conceptualize them simply as public relations firms' fabricated facades, not as complex organizations. Also, no existing studies have analyzed "astroturfing" in education reform. Qualitative interviews with Parent Revolution staff, website content analysis, participant observation, and blog entry reviews provide the data. Political opportunity and resource mobilization theory, and frame analysis situate it as a new type of social movement organization. Findings indicate that Parent Revolution has a two-pronged, hybrid organizational structure enabling it to affect macro and micro level changes. Its diagnostic and prognostic framing techniques, ability to organize parents, and symbolic use of civil rights imagery renders it almost indistinguishable from real grassroots organizations-the mark of a well-designed astroturf organization. This study contributes to the research gap on astroturf organizations, its use of the grassroots label, entry into education reform, and parent movements in education. Further research is needed to assess astroturf's longevity and legitimacy upon its corporate backing's and top-down structure's unveiling.

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