Far From the Dream: Exploring the Gap in Educational Opportunities for Black Americans

Heidi Turner Katz

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Substantial evidence demonstrates the inequity in educational opportunity that currently exists for Black students in U.S. schools. Combatting this inequity requires an understanding of what educational opportunity looks like in practice and insight into the various mechanisms that maintain and reproduce inequity. This dissertation explores the topic of educational opportunity through the lens of race with the aim of identifying the ways in which schools and policies can ensure all students receive the necessary support to be successful both in and out of school. In essence, this dissertation aims to capture what makes an education freeing and equitable.
To address the research aims, this dissertation employed a qualitatively driven, multi-method research design that consisted of four interrelated studies. The research approach and methods used for each of the four studies differed, but in combination, the studies sought to fulfill the overarching project aims. The multi-method design enabled a complex examination of racial inequity and educational opportunity from multiple perspectives and at four different levels: conceptual, policy, school, and individual.
The first study was a conversion mixed methods integrative review that focused on educational opportunity at the conceptual level. The study resulted in the development of an educational opportunity framework that has implications for both practice and theory. The framework can be adapted in different contexts to guide schools and researchers in evaluating or improving equity in educational opportunities.
Study II adopted an embedded mixed methods case study approach to examine the racial status quo within a majority-White high school (school level) and Black students’ experiences within that school (individual level). The analysis resulted in the development of a figure depicting the cycle of inequity within the racial status quo and how this impacted students’ experiences. The figure can be used as a model for schools to examine their own status quo, and improve practices and curriculum to ensure all students are provided equitable opportunities.
The third study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to more closely examine the same set of data as Study II by focusing on the qualitative data collected from the five Black girl participants (individual level). The study provides insight into school practices that result in feelings of entrapment, as well as more supportive structures and practices that give students a sense of freedom. Based on these results, suggestions are made for how schools can be more autonomy-supportive and inclusive. The suggestions do not just apply to Black girls, but could lead to a more freeing education for the broader student population.
The final study was a convergent mixed methods critical policy analysis that explored how racial/ethnic equity was promoted or inhibited in 61 educational policies that were introduced and enacted between 2020 and 2022. Though the majority of policies were found to promote equity, a critical evaluation of the policies revealed that those promoting equity presented more symbolic rather than meaningful action. In addition, they failed to address many of the structural issues that reproduce racial inequity. These findings necessitate education policies that move beyond race neutrality and explicitly target systemic racism.
The results of these studies taken together demonstrate the ways that racial inequity occurs through school practices and policies, and what this inequity means for Black students’ school experiences. By centering Black students’ experiences in a majority-White school, this dissertation points to the more subtle mechanisms that exist within schools that create inequity in accessing opportunities and having positive school experiences. Moreover, this dissertation examines educational opportunity at multiple levels enabling a more complex understanding of the interconnected factors that contribute to inequity. In sum, this dissertation contributes to both theory and practice by offering practical solutions to improving racial equity and presenting new frameworks for evaluating and conceptualizing educational opportunity.
Original languageEnglish
  • Acquah, Emmanuel, Supervisor
  • Björklund, Siv, Supervisor
Place of PublicationVaasa
Print ISBNs978-952-12-4241-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-12-4242-7
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


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