Date Approved

8-29-2016

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Ethan Lowenstein, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Valerie Polakow, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Deborah Harmon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, Ph.D.

Abstract

For the past 30 years, there has been a significant “achievement gap” between the mathematics academic performance of Black and White students. This “achievement gap,” has been used to validate deficit thinking frameworks and portray Black students as unmotivated and deviant. This study suggests that it is necessary to change the national conversation of the achievement gap to one that Milner (2012) refers to as the opportunity gap.

Using the stories of Black high school students’ experiences in the mathematics classroom, this dissertation displays the various opportunity gaps that Black students experience within the classroom. This study utilizes qualitative research approaches, documenting the experiences of Black high school students through interviews and focus group discussions. A total of 23 students participated in the study, and the stories of 11 students are included in this dissertation.

The voices of the Black students within the study, lead to the development of three interpretative themes: race matters, teacher care, and the impersonal nature of the mathematics classroom. Race matters describe the difficulties and challenges that students face in racialized educational environments, including the difficulty of defining what it means to be Black. Teacher care examines the critical role that teachers play in developing a learning environment that promotes achievement. The impersonal nature of the mathematics classroom explores the lack of connection that students have with mathematics.

The result of this study not only challenges the validity of the “achievement gap,” it implores educators to critically examine their personal biases and the potential influence of these biases on students’ academic performance. Moreover, this study provides an alternative perspective to understand students’ negative classroom behavior. Additionally, this study examines how inequalities are perpetuated through inadequate school funding initiatives, specifically in the state of Michigan.

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