Teacher and Guidance Counselor Perceptions of Classroom Diversity: Are Institutional Barriers Discouraging Classroom Diversity in Advanced Courses?

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Since the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision in 1954, and the implementation of city-wide and nation-wide initiatives toward re-integration of schools that followed in subsequent decades, school populations across the country have diversified considerably. However, segregation continues to exist within schools. For example, minority students in accelerated (Advanced Placement or Honors) classes continue to be underrepresented. Theorists and educators alike often employ cultural models of minority underachievement in education to explain the near absence of students of color in many of our nation's accelerated public high school classes. Yet institutional barriers may be critical components of the exclusion of minority students from these classes. This study examined the case of a large public High School in Virginia where white students make up 25% of the total school population, but 58% of advanced courses, black students make up 43% of the total school population, but only 24% of advanced courses, and Hispanic students make up 25% of the school student body, but only 9% of advanced courses. The study found institutional barriers in the form of inconsistently implemented policy, and subjective decision making by school faculty in policy enforcement, as possible explanations for the persistence of the lack of diversity in advanced courses.