Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

Committee Chair/Advisor

Hans Klar

Committee Member

Daniella Hall Sutherland

Committee Member

Natasha Croom

Committee Member

Jacquelynn Malloy


Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, achievement gaps have guided education reform work. The focus on these gaps in student outcomes has been standardized and has lacked consideration of the inputs that create the academic achievement disparities between demographic groups of students. These gaps are often tied to the segregation of learning opportunities, both across and within schools, and perpetuate racist and classist stereotypes of students. A critical need to shift attention from gaps in achievement to a more appropriate measure, opportunity gaps between racially minoritized students and their White peers, is needed. In this study, I specifically focused on the widely documented gap in opportunity to access Advanced Placement (AP) courses that racially minoritized students face. Furthermore, given the significant and increasing influence of school principals on student outcomes, I examined three high school principals’ understandings of opportunity gaps in their schools, their leadership actions, and the role that these factors play in racially minoritized students’ access to AP courses. To acknowledge the complex and nuanced realities of opportunity gaps in the U.S. education system, true equity work will require more localized, context-specific approaches to closing racialized opportunity gaps and subsequent achievement gaps. I employed tenets of the Opportunity Gap Framework (Milner, 2012), Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL) (Khalifa, 2016) and Place-Conscious Leadership (Budge, 2006; Gruenewald, 2003) to create a conceptual framework that I used to drive all aspects of the design of this multiple case study. In this framework, I included three primary drivers of opportunity gaps as identified throughout the literature: people, policies, and practices. I examined within-case findings pertaining to the people, policies, and practices that influenced access to AP courses at each site and followed this examination with a cross-case analysis that resulted in findings that illustrated the perceptions that each principal held of opportunity gaps and the influence of those perceptions on their leadership practices. Furthermore, the findings highlight direct and indirect ways that the leadership actions of each principal connected to changes in AP course access at their schools for racially minoritized and historically underrepresented students in their schools: through how they interpreted and enacted policy, how they perceived the AP program, and how they identified and created opportunity using data- driven approaches. These findings will aid in the development of more equitable school leaders and policy within a national culture of high-stakes accountability and increasingly colorblind legislative measures with regard to student access.

Author ORCID Identifier




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