Ph.D., University of Massachusetts-Amherst
In her independent book project, Professor Kyla Walters examines a contentious 2016 ballot referendum contest. The ballot question proposed “lifting the cap” to allow a dramatic increase in the number of allowed charter schools in Massachusetts. Charter schools are controversial; they are publicly funded schools run by non-government organizations (including for-profit companies). Compared to other states, Massachusetts’ charter school sector is highly regulated, making it a worthy “test case” for the pro-charter forces to experiment with political strategies. Ten months before the November 2016 election, the playing field was tilted heavily in favor of “lifting the cap.” The pro-expansion side pledged $18 million dollars to the campaign and had a 25% lead in the polls, in addition to endorsements from the state’s largest newspaper and popular governor. Yet Massachusetts voters ultimately rejected the proposal by 62%.
Dr. Walters argues that two central factors explain this unexpected outcome, using an original dataset that includes 84 interviews and participant observation of both sides. First, teachers became what she refers to as everyday spokespeople. Hundreds of teachers, located in every community across the state, engaged in one-on-one conversations to persuade voters to “keep the cap” on charter schools. Second, the opposition to charter school expansion developed an interracial coalition to denounce the pro-expansion side’s interracial advertising strategy and messaging of charter schools as a tool to promote racial equality. This factor reveals the importance of what she calls racial resources – the distinctly racial composition and consequence of the various resources used in campaigns.
She also studies race, gender, and inequality in retail work using qualitative methods.
Joya Misra and Kyla Walters. 2022. Walking Mannequins: How Race and Gender Inequalities Shape Retail Clothing Work. Oakland: University of California Press.
Kyla Walters. 2020. Learning from Massachusetts Teachers: Organizing Against Charter School Expansion in 2016. Paper presentation in the session Platform Labor to Worker Organizing. Labor and Labor Movements Section, American Sociological Association.
Kyla Walters. 2020. "Fighting and defeating the charter school agenda.” Chapter 12 in Labor in the Time of Trump, edited by Jasmine Kerrissey, Eve Weinbaum, Clare Hammonds, Tom Juravich, and Dan Clawson. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Kyla Walters. 2019. “Fighting (for) Charter School Expansion: Racial Resources and Ideological Consistency.” In Race, Organizations, and Organizing Processes, edited by Melissa E. Wooten. New York: Emerald Press.
Kyla Walters. 2018. “‘They’ll Go with the Lighter’: Tri-racial Aesthetic Labor in Clothing Retail.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 4(1):128-141.