An Analysis of Three White Male High School Assistant Principal Perceptions of Black Males Students in a Suburban District



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A large majority of research portrays the achievement gap as an outcome and a primary focus of what is wrong in American schools when instead it is a symptom of a larger issue. Defining the problem in education in terms of achievement ignores a much more pervasive issue, which is an understanding of the causes behind these results. Studies of the achievement gap commonly result in looking at the individual, ignoring structural and systematic inequities and limitations, that promote deficit thinking. Early research into the achievement gap believed that family background was the strongest indicator of achievement. Educators widely accepted this theory and believed that schools could do little to assist Black students to be successful. But these beliefs are now understood to be heavily entrenched in deficit thinking, perpetuating structural inequalities, and the consequences have been educators who have largely bypassed the needs of Black male students for decades. Deficit thinking and institutional racism is an underlying factor in lagging achievement because the result is an education that lacks rigor and has lower expectations, which is detrimental to Black students. Research exists on teacher perception of students identifying deficit thinking, but there is no research on assistant principals, who are arguably one of the most influential persons for at-risk students, therefore, as in the case of this study, for Black males. Perceptions of Black males inside and outside of school may impact the decision-making process by which assistant principals perform their administrative functions. This study examines the role these perceptions play by White male assistant principals in the lives of Black males, and in so doing, this study examines institutional racism in schools, leadership, and achievement. Results of this study show assistant principals never cited school leadership, teachers, or policies as having an impact on Black male students, thereby illustrating their lack of consciousness of institutional racism. By comparing the results of this study to historical and current research, the results show that White assistant principals act upon outdated and deficit understandings of Black males, and this which contributes to the structural inequalities that limit opportunities for students of color.