Conversation as intervention: How a group of teachers in a suburban high school talk about low achievement

Delvin Morris Dinkins, University of Pennsylvania


Urban school districts have historically suffered the brunt of public display of low-test scores and low public confidence. Suburban schools districts, on the other hand, have generally stayed clear of, or remained impervious to, such exposure. That there are burgeoning achievement gaps across and within races, economic levels, cultures and schools is nothing new. The gaps, however, have been made more transparent than ever through the disaggregation of student performance data, as required by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. With increasing conversation across the nation about race, class and culture as related to school achievement, suburban schools are facing the critical challenge of underachievement of minorities and low-income students. This study utilizes qualitative research methods to explain the conversations about achievement that occurred within a group of teachers at a predominantly white, high-performing suburban high school. The teacher group was set in motion by the results of a black stakeholder group's inquiry into black student underachievement. Situated primarily inside the teacher group, this study describes and analyzes, at the macro-level, the discourses of teachers with respect to race, class and achievement. The typology of informants' ideologies regarding black underachievement is interpreted within and against a backdrop of activities, which are premised ideologically, politically, and structurally. Research and theory relevant to achievement gaps, teacher learning, discourse, and school culture framed this study. Teachers possess and bring to their daily work significant knowledge and theories of schooling and educational practices that are latent with ideologies and epistemologies. The teacher group, as the unit of analysis for this study, surfaced discursive practices that group members qualified, challenged, but mainly confirmed. The data revealed teachers' attempts to maintain a social justice stance amidst more familiar institutional and historical patterns that normalized academic failure for black and low-income students. While teachers showed caring and support for black students, their competing discourses which were intimate school culture, their interests, and long-held traditions of intellectual hierarchy and group status led them to locate the problem of black underachievement within students. Over time and with the increasing expectations for teacher action, teachers' discourses became blaming of others and more resistant to accepting responsibility to redress black student failure.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|School administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Dinkins, Delvin Morris, "Conversation as intervention: How a group of teachers in a suburban high school talk about low achievement" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168018.