Anti-racist leadership in a high-performing public high school: a design-based study of detracking mathematics

Creekside High School is a high-performing public high school where students who are not White or Asian face a racialized school environment. This dissertation examines the school’s initiative to detrack its ninth grade Algebra class. Detracking is the process of placing students in heterogeneous classes instead of grouping students by ability. The framework of design-based research was adopted to perform this study. Design-based research places the researcher and practitioners in collaboration working to iteratively design interventions. Chapter Two is a qualitative study that examined the perceptions of tracking shared by teachers and the community. This study found that the community holds many misperceptions about detracking due to lack of communication from the school and the district However, the study also found a small group who want to build more equitable solutions. Chapter Three is a quantitative study of student outcomes. There was a slight drop in student grades between the tracked course and the detracked course with no drop in exam scores. Furthermore, students in the detracked course were more successful in their subsequent Geometry courses. Chapter 4 is qualitative study of pedagogy and teacher perceptions. Pedagogy changed during the detracking process. The tracked course was very teacher-centered, and the rigor was not universal due to there being two levels of Algebra. During the first year of the detracked course, the course became much more student-centered, and the average level of rigor increased. However, for advanced students, rigor and challenge were missing, and this was an area of focus for the second year. Teacher perceptions also changed throughout the process. The teachers on the team have grown into viewing Mathematics as an interconnected, non-linear system of thought and have moved beyond questioning detracking to developing solutions. Chapter Five is a qualitative study synthesizing all of the data collected in Chapters Two through Four. These data were used to propose a leadership framework called Critical Design-Based School Leadership. Critical refers to the use of a critical lens focused on equity and Design-Based refers to the use of design-based research techniques as the mechanism for school leadership.