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A Crisis of Authority in Predominantly Black Schools?


by Sean P. Kelly — 2010

Background/Context: Black students are no less engaged or more disruptive than other students of similar achievement levels and socioeconomic status. However, because Black students are more likely to have disadvantaged family backgrounds and lower levels of achievement, segregation concentrates the risk factors for problem behavior in predominantly Black schools. As a result of the behavioral climate in predominantly Black schools, teachers may rely on instructional methods that facilitate an orderly classroom and minimize the negative effects of disruptions, possibly resulting in an instructional approach that is less engaging for students in those classrooms. I rely on Metz’s typology of developmental versus incorporative instruction and research on classroom discourse to identify instruction that may negatively impact student engagement.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: First, how do reports of problem behavior from teachers and administrators in predominantly Black schools differ from those in integrated and non-Black schools? Second, how does the prevalence of developmental instruction vary across schools with different racial compositions?

Research Design: This study uses the 2003–2004 Schools and Staffing Survey data to analyze reports of problem behavior from teachers and administrators. Logistic regression models are used to provide estimates of the prevalence of behavioral problems, adjusting for academic performance and socioeconomic status of the student body. The Chicago School Study (CSS) and the Partnership for Literacy Study (Partnership) data are then used to investigate the prevalence of developmental instruction. The CSS data contain student and teacher reports of the incorporation of student ideas into instruction. In the Partnership data, time summary statistics of observational records of teachers’ instructional activities (e.g., lecture, discussion, seatwork) and question property statistics from a coding of classroom discourse are presented.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Consistent with prior research, teachers are much more likely to report incidences of problem behavior in predominantly Black schools. Consequently, the instructional environment in predominantly Black schools and classrooms is tailored somewhat to reduce classroom disruptions and maintain an orderly environment. Specifically, the result is less interactive discourse and more seatwork. However, the differences in teachers’ instructional approach are relatively modest; there is no “crisis” of authority. Further research is needed on the effects of segregation on social relations in schools and how classroom instruction is affected.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 5, 2010, p. 1247-1274
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15666, Date Accessed: 10/21/2017 1:02:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Sean Kelly
    University of Notre Dame
    E-mail Author
    SEAN KELLY is assistant professor of sociology and faculty member of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) at the University of Notre Dame. His research on classroom discourse and student engagement received an exemplary dissertation award from the Spencer Foundation in 2008. Recent publications include: “The Black-White Gap in Mathematics Course Taking” (Sociology of Education, 2009) and “Race, Social Class, and Student Engagement in Middle School English Classrooms” (Social Science Research, 2008).
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