Determining Who Is Worthy: Stakeholder Perspectives on a District’s De-Leveling Initiatives

Rachel Roegman, Rebecca Hinze-Pifer, Nathan Tanner, Danté Studamire, Faith Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context:Scholars and practitioners continue to work to identify ways to change structural conditions, school-level policy, and stakeholder mindsets to support minoritized youth in advanced coursework. Open access policies, in which students do not need a previous teacher’s approval or a prerequisite grade to enroll in an advanced offering, that are coupled with teacher training and student support are one positive direction. However, it is critical to consider whether open access policies are truly “open” and how students are placed in different levels of coursework.Purpose/Objective/Research Question or Focus of Study:The purpose of this article is to examine how key stakeholders, including students, counselors, and principals, understand and act on district initiatives in course placement decisions. Research questions are: (1) How do different stakeholders view their own role, and other stakeholders’ role, in determining who should be enrolled in more advanced coursework? (2) In what ways do different stakeholders understand educational equity in relation to the course placement process? (3) How are students’ reported experiences with course scheduling consistent with or in conflict with the practices and values reported by school administrators and counselors?Research Design:The district at the heart of this study was chosen because of its 10-year-long commitment to reducing barriers to advanced coursework, and implementation of many of the strategies identified as promising by prior research. We utilized a concurrent mixed-methods design involving interviews with principals and counselors and surveys of students, given that both quantitative and qualitative data provide partial perspectives on our research questions. Social reproduction theory served as an explanatory tool, as we considered how different stakeholders understood the idea of “choice” in students’ course-selection process. We looked specifically to ways that the district continues to classify students and contributes to the reproduction of ideas about who is “smart” and “worthy,” and who is not.Conclusions/Recommendations:To address the identified difficulties in reversing race- and class-based inequities in student course-taking, we outlined a set of comprehensive recommendations for policy and practice, at both the school and district level, and the teacher and leader preparation level. In part, these aim to address the variation that existed across the district, in terms of both mindset and policy implementation. Of note, technical solutions are not sufficient for equity-focused reforms, especially with socially constructed concepts such as “interest” and socially constrained pathways of “choice.”
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-193
Number of pages31
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


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