Theses Doctoral

Naming, Framing, and Claiming the Gap: Black Parent Perspectives on Achievement in Saint Paul Public Schools

Walker-Davis, Michelle Joy

This study broadly examines how Black parents in Minnesota’s Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) make sense of and respond to the achievement gap. Using a qualitative research design, I interviewed 21 SPPS Black parents, of diverse backgrounds, and seven district administrators to gather their perspectives on how the phenomenon known as the achievement gap is “named,” “framed,” and “claimed” within the mainstream educational community and through the unique experiences of Black parents in SPPS. Specifically, I asked: (1) to what extent are Black parents in SPPS aware of the race-based achievement gap, and how do they interpret or make sense of it; (2) how does knowledge of the gap influence the attitudes and interactions of Black parents in SPPS toward and with the school system; and (3) how do Black parents in SPPS engage in, or react to, the district’s efforts to develop and/or implement programs, policies, and practices designed to address the achievement gap? I found that the Black parents I interviewed have strong opinions about, and reactions to, academic outcomes and disparities. They are aware of disparities in education but don’t think or talk about the achievement gap in the same way as is dominant in public discourse. The parents acknowledge many reasons why children don’t do well and have something to say about what should done and by whom. Their engagement in their children’s schooling experience, whether visible or not (especially if not), is a form of resistance and advocacy, and they want and need to be part of a larger movement to amplify their collective voice. This study is intended to provide guidance to leaders and decision-makers in SPPS as the district develops, implements, or redesigns programs, policies, and practices aimed at eliminating racial disparities in student achievement. In particular, I recommend that careful and ongoing exploration of Black parent perspectives and behaviors would be useful to the district’s efforts to address the achievement gap.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Riehl, Carolyn J.
Douglass Horsford, Sonya
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2019