Theses Doctoral

Principals and the Path to Equity in Racially Diverse Schools: Sensemaking of Race, Reputation and Policy

Bloomberg, Jill

The federal government has largely abandoned the crucial top-down role it played in mid-20th century K12 school desegregation policies, making racial isolation in many urban and suburban districts a federal policy non-issue and, thus, completely up to the state or local policymakers to address. At the same time, more school districts around the country are both experiencing an increase in racial diversity and creating student assignment policies designed to create more racially diverse schools within those districts.

Furthermore, the professional knowledge of teaching, learning, and race has grown out of a critique from many scholars of color in particular about what was not addressed during the 20th-century era of school desegregation—namely an effort to diversify the curriculum and pedagogy beyond the experiences and contributions of White Americans and to rethink the role of culture in how children learn as well as the role of schools in preparing students to live in a multiracial democracy.

Amid this devolution of desegregation’s hope and possibility and the newly evolving knowledge of teaching and learning stand the school principals—the people most in the position to make school-level integration and equity a reality. This embedded case study of 16 middle school principals caught between the racialized construction of school quality that still permeates our society and their understanding of what constitutes good education to prepare students for a multiracial democracy fills the gap in our understanding of the interaction between student assignment policies and the practice of school leadership in racially diverse schools and districts.

Specifically, I found that principals share a common professional vision of school quality for all children that is rooted in the vision common among Black principals in segregated Black spaces that focuses on student-centered, culturally relevant curricula and pedagogy in a climate of support and belonging. However, in a context of market competition and racialized reputations, principals adopted practices—like test prep and between-school tracking—that contradicted their own professionally constructed vision of school quality. It was only when student assignment policies changed to distribute more evenly high-status students among all
the schools in the district, in addition to providing access to high-status schools to more Black and Latino students, that principals embraced the opportunity to pursue their professional construction of school quality rather than the racialized social construction of the marketplace.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Wells, Amy S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 10, 2023