Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Curriculum & Instruction


Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Patricia Austin

Second Advisor

Yvelyne Germain-McCarthy

Third Advisor

Richard Speaker

Fourth Advisor

Ivan Gill


Despite a century of educational reforms, no matter how achievement is measured, learning and opportunity gaps can still be predicted by race and socioeconomic status. Teachers and schools are blamed for functioning to reproduce social inequality. This study investigated teacher agency and transformative potentials. It considered how teachers modified their pedagogical practices when teaching low-income and high-poverty students. In order to capture teacher beliefs and logic, a qualitative approach was used involving in-depth interviews of a small number of participants.

The research used the context of the dislocation of students from high-poverty Orleans Parish schools in the year following Hurricane Katrina and their absorption into often higher income schools to understand middle-class teachers’ perspectives on their new students’ learning needs and how they adjusted their practice. Participants were middle-school mathematics teachers ranging in experience and orientation. Evacuees had weaker mathematics backgrounds (often two years below grade level). In all cases, evacuees were in classes with non-evacuees.

Teachers made different pedagogical choices: continuing to use diverse methods aimed at higher-order understanding, or moving to direct instructional strategies; remediating or accelerating students with below-grade-level mathematics skills; and whether or not to help students acculturate (code-switch) from one set of classroom norms and etiquettes to another. Key factors influencing choices included: socioeconomic makeup of their classes; teachers’ level of mathematics expertise; emphasis on test scores; teachers’ views of students’ culture; and teachers’ peer environments. The study provides insights into teacher and classroom mechanisms that contributed to Katrina evacuee multi-year achievement gains.


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