Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


George Theoharis


Academic Tracking, Acceleration, District-level Leadership, Equity, Regional Influence, Suburban Schools


Inequity and marginalization exist within educational structures, policies, and practices. As such, practitioners, like district-level leaders need a clearer understanding of the barriers and their role in making meaning and shaping progress to overcome the disconnect between their beliefs, data, and meaningful and sustainable action. This study sought to understand regional efforts and influences of district leaders around issues of academic tracking and acceleration. As a result of a desire for transformation, this qualitative research study closely examined high-level district leaders by analyzing how they view academic tracking and acceleration within their organizations, how they address issues of equity within acceleration and course tracking systems, and how they navigate what they say gets in the way of de-tracking efforts.

The study focused on the following three research questions: What are the realities and beliefs of district leaders around issues of tracking and acceleration? How do district leaders address tracking and acceleration within their middle and high schools? and How does regional influences and pressure impact decision-making and change efforts?

Twelve district leaders consisting of Superintendents of Schools and Assistant Superintendents / Directors of Curriculum & Instruction from six suburban school districts within one region of New York State participated in the study. Data were collected using semi-structured, joint, and focus group interviews, participant observations, and artifacts / historical document reviews. The data was informed by a conceptual framework that combined the tracking reform framework of Oakes (1992), the equity-focused change framework for school leadership by Radd, Generett, Gooden, and Theoharis (2021), and Theoharis and Scanlan’s (2015) practices for socially just leadership.

Both inductive and deductive coding were utilized to generate categories and themes for the qualitative data as part of the analysis. For the supplemental, yet very limited, quantitative/descriptive data used within this study, proportional representation and disproportionality were the primary concepts used for analysis. Additionally, pivot tables and 100% stacked bar charts were used to represent the descriptive data.

Results of this study revealed that regionally there are many oppressive patterns that are allowed to exist within the suburban districts / schools. Moreover, the study’s findings indicated that the leaders all have good intentions, but little is done to disrupt tracking within the districts / schools. The study suggests that district leaders need to employ collective efforts and strategies, all of which require educators to actively work together to influence, change, and counteract pressures that create inequity within academic tracking and acceleration programs, to eliminate barriers and ensure access for all students.


Open Access