Date of Award

June 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Jeffery Mangram

Subject Categories



National measures of student achievement, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), provide evidence of the gap in success between African-American and white students. Despite national calls for increased school accountability and focus on achievement gaps, many African-American children continue to struggle in school academically, as compared to their white peers. Ladson-Billings (2006) argues that a deeper understanding of the legacy of disparity in funding for schools serving primarily African-American students, shutting out African-American parents from civic participation, and unfair treatment of African-Americans despite their contributions to the United States is necessary to complicate the discourse about African-American student performance. The deficit model that uses student snapshots of achievement such as the NAEP and other national assessments to explain the achievement gap suggests that there is something wrong with African-American children. As Cowen Pitre (2104) explains, however, “the deficit model theory blames the victim without acknowledging the unequal educational and social structures that deny African-American students access to a quality education (2014, pg. 212). To reframe the deficit discourse, Linda Darling-Hammond (2010) identifies key factors contributing to an opportunity gap including, unequal access to qualified teachers and a lack of access to high-quality curriculum. This dissertation examined the opportunity gap at a particular predominantly white school. Specifically, I explored the experiences of African-American parents as they navigated and negotiated the institutional challenges and everyday racism they faced in a suburban environment.

Four African-American parents from one suburban school district took part in this study. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and observations, and was informed by theoretical work around race, racism, systemic racism theory, whiteness, racial microaggressions, and the unconscious habits of racial privilege. Results of this study revealed that African-American parents experienced various manifestations of institutional racism and everyday occurrences of microaggressions that required them to navigate and negotiate this suburban environment. Institutional racism and everyday instances of microaggressions restricted parents’ ability to fully access the educational opportunities that were available for their children.


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