The Relationship of School Leader Values and Practices to Participation of Black and Latinx Students in Advanced Placement Courses

Rudolph, Beverly, Administration and Supervision - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Mitchell, Sandra, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

Black and Latinx students in the United States are significantly underrepresented in Advanced Placement (AP) courses (Aud et al., 2010; College Board, 2008, 2018b). Historically, each group has experienced racial disproportionality between its participation in AP courses in comparison to its overall 9th – 12th grade U.S. population. The long-term negative effects for Black and Latinx students, their families, and their communities are significant, including limited post-secondary opportunities and a reduction of long-term earning potential. Perhaps more significant is the devastating personal impact on students of color who feel “less than” their Asian and White peers (Lipps et al., 2010; Slavin, 1990).

The literature presented significant evidence on the influence that school-based leaders exerted on schools and student academic achievement. While these impacts tended to be indirect, they nonetheless influenced the elements that directly affected student achievement (Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Sun & Leithwood, 2015). Several noteworthy leadership frameworks emphasized both values and practices which demonstrate the greatest impact on schools and student learning (Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Hitt & Tucker, 2016; Leithwood, 2011; Leithwood et al., 2020; Murphy et al., 2006; Robinson et al., 2008; Sebring et al., 2006). From these frameworks emerged many common practices including visioning and setting directions/directions setting, cultivation of people, organizational structure, and instructional focus. Similarly, the culturally responsive school leadership framework of Khalifa et al. (2016) provided values, practices, behaviors that support leaders’ responses to minority student needs.

The literature additionally offered eight promising school-based leader practices that have increased Black and Latinx enrollment in AP courses (Childress et al., 2009; Corra & Lovaglia, 2012; Daher, 2018; Theoharis & Scanlan, 2015; Theokas & Saaris, 2013; Wood, 2012). These majority of the practices focused on leaders’ values such as a strength-based mindset which compels leaders to identify and remove barriers to AP classes for minority students and provide supports and scaffolding for AP teachers and first-time AP students and their families. Research also indicated that leader risk-taking was necessary as privileged students and their families are often resistant to this work (Kelly & Price, 2011; Kyburg et al., 2007; Rowland & Shircliffe, 2016).

Against this backdrop, the study identified the values and practices of one school-based leadership team who had increased minority participation in AP courses over a 24 year period. Using semi-structured interviews, AP enrollment data, and applicable artifacts, the resulting data were viewed through two selected elements from Leithwood et al. (2020), setting directions and organizational development, and the critical self-reflection strand from culturally responsive school leadership (Khalifa, 2018; Khalifa et al., 2016).

The resulting analyses informed several key findings, recommendations, and action communication products that may provide insight into increasing Black and Latinx AP enrollment. Findings included:
1. School-based leaders’ belief in students’ academic abilities and their related belief that their leadership could produce meaningful change emerged as key values.
2. The leadership practices of risk-taking, particularly around addressing race, data utilization, supports provision, and connection-making with the larger school community proved significant.
3. The organizational structures set up by school leaders provided the foundation for the long-term work of increasing AP enrollment for students of color: creating a sustainable school vision, providing organizational stability, distributing leadership and resources, and engaging in regular critical self-reflection and evaluation of the work.

Based on these themes, I proposed five recommendations, the first three for the study site and the last two for school leaders in general.
1. Record a history of the work.
2. Critically self-reflect and re-evaluate current work.
3. Engage in greater depth the families of Black and Latinx students
4. Learn from the study site while considering own context.
5. Create and consider support for and continuity in the principalship.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
school-based leadership, values, setting directions/directions setting, organizational development, culturally responsive school leadership, Advanced Placement (AP), Black/African-American, Latino/a/x
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