The impact of an action research study on deficit thinking in an elementary school

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Ulrich Reitzug

Abstract: In education, the government has raised the bar related to expectations placed upon school districts to ensure that school letter grades are high, schools meet growth measures, and proficiency increases. While the bar is heightened, so is the student achievement gap between white students and students of color. Currently, there is not an existing policy, program, or practice that has resulted in the achievement gap closing. Therefore, instead of looking for external solutions, school leaders must look within their school buildings to identify what perceptions, biases, attitudes, and beliefs educators bring with them into the school that influence the work they do with students, especially those within marginalized populations. Deficit thinking is the practice of holding lower expectations for students with demographic, linguistic, and socioeconomic characteristics that do not align with the American dream, also known as the American way. Deficit thinking asserts that the low academic achievement of low-income students from culturally, racially, and socioeconomically different backgrounds is to be blamed on these external factors— factors not related to the school and the work done within the four walls of a classroom. Those whose thought is based in a deficit perspective attempt to “fix” marginalized students by assisting in their assimilation. School leaders must help educators search within to recognize the biases, perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs that they possess that are laced with deficit notions. This action research study examined the benefits of a focus group within an elementary school setting in which educators and the principal worked together to discuss their thoughts and practices aligned with deficit thinking. The goal was for the dialogue about race, deficit thinking, and achievement to spark educators to take action in which they would eliminate deficit thinking and practices within their classrooms and seek ways to spread the dialogue to their peers to do the same. Based on the findings, recommendations include having intentional discussions about deficit thinking to create school settings that promote a safe and supportive space for all students, including those who are often marginalized.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Achievement gap, Deficit thinking, Expectations, Marginalized populations, Principal leadership, Teacher perceptions
Students with social disabilities $x Education (Elementary)
Elementary school teachers $x Attitudes
Discrimination in education
Multicultural education
Academic achievement
Educational leadership
Educational change

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