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The Invisibility of Black Girls in Mathematics

Virginia Mathematics Teacher vol. 44, no. 1 46
The Invisibility of Black Girls in Mathematics
Nicole M. Joseph
Partnering with students to support them in
becoming educated, productive, and responsible
citizens is at the core of the Virginia Department of
Education’s mission, and I wonder how Black girls
are experiencing this mission in their K-12 trajecto-
ries? The 2015 NAEP mathematics data for Virgin-
ia shows a 22- and 30-point difference between
Black and White fourth- and eighth-graders respec-
tively (National Center for Education Statistics).
Although Board of Education President Billy K.
Cannaday Jr. notes that the state board’s top priori-
ty is to continue to work toward narrowing and ul-
timately closing the achievement gap between
Black and White students, I wonder what Virginia
plans to do for its Black girls in particular? The
2015-2016 Virginia State Standards of Learning
(SOL) Assessment data shows the following pass
rates for Black girls from third- through twelfth-
grade (see Table 1).
So just what is the state of Black girls’ ex-
periences in mathematics in Virginia? It is difficult
to answer this question in part because most states
rarely disaggregate their assessment data at inter-
sections of race and gender, but also because there
is a limited focus on contextualized studies that ex-
amine Black girls and their mathematics education
experiences. It is not just a Virginia problem; it is a
national problem. Black girls’ experiences in math-
ematics remain invisible and largely untheorized
and this invisibility produces obscurity to most
mathematics teachers; consequently, program and
learning design efforts remain non-existent. Inter-
ventions that are put in place are usually single-axis
and assume that either all girls or all African-
American students have the same needs. Intersec-
tional interventions can provide promise for Black
girls and other racialized minorities. Such interven-
tions would not only take into account Black girls’
particular learning needs for persistence in mathe-
matics (Joseph, Hailu, & Boston, 2017), they
would also account for issues of power, oppression,
and center social justice (Collins & Bilge, 2016).
Understanding Black girls’ experiences in
mathematics during their K-12 trajectories can shed
light on their underrepresentation in higher educa-
tion majors and careers that require mathematics
degrees. For example, studies have shown that
Black girls have higher mathematics career aspira-
tions than their White and Latina female peers
(Riegle-Crumb, Moore, & Ramos-Wada, 2011),
yet, few make it to the doctoral level. Table 2
shows the number of mathematics doctorates
awarded to American citizens over the last 10
years. What we notice is that over the last 10 years,
White males earned roughly 75% of the mathemat-
ics doctorate degrees in comparison to all women.
We also notice that in 2014, all women, with ra-
cialized women yielding eight percent, and Black
women roughly one percent, earned 27% of the
math doctorates.
Table 1. 2015-2016 Virginia State Standards of Learning (SOL) Assessment Pass Rate for Black Girls, 3rd – 12th
3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th
Black Girls 64.48% 73% 69.9% 74.15% 62.18% 71.60% 79.97% 72.32% 69.94% 67.03%
Source: Virginia SOL Assessment Build-A-Table (
Virginia Mathematics Teacher vol. 44, no. 1 47
These numbers can be explained by several
factors; here, I discuss a few. We know from thirty
years of research by Jeannie Oakes (1985, 1990a,
1990b) that mathematics tracking substantially lim-
its African-American students’ access to advanced
mathematics courses. Mathematics tracking is the
process of organizing students into mathematics
courses that are based on their ability, and it has
been an accepted practice in U.S. schools for nearly
a century (Rubin, 2008).
Teachers’ low expectations and overall as-
sumptions about Black girls in society impede the
opportunity for Black girls to learn in mathematics
classrooms (Rist, 2000). Teachers hold low expec-
tations of low-income Black girls in upper elemen-
tary classrooms who are perceived as having lim-
ited knowledge and bring social challenges to the
learning environment (Pringle et al., 2012). Black
girls’ early confidence in and value of mathematics
often fails to translate when it comes to interactions
with their mathematics teachers. Battey and Levya
(2013) found positive and negative effects on
Black girls’ mathematics achievement in terms of
relational interactions with their teachers. There is
also a deep-seeded historical and societal myth that
Black girls and mathematics are incompatible
(Gholson, 2016; Hottinger, 2016; Joseph, 2016). In
addition to the damaging stereotypes that can lead
to disidentification with the discipline of mathe-
matics, Black girls often lack access to high quali-
ty, advanced mathematics and science courses in
schools located in their communities (National
Women’s Law Center, 2014).
My own work examines how Black girls
develop mathematics identities since we know that
productive and robust mathematics identities con-
tribute to longer-term persistence in mathematics
(Boaler & Greeno, 2000; Joseph, Hailu, & Boston,
2017; McGee, 2015). Specifically, I aim to exam-
ine the roles race, class, gender and other socially
constructed identities as well as interlocking sys-
tems of oppression play in shaping their mathemat-
ics identities. Understanding what factors contrib-
ute to robust mathematics identities for Black girls
is important for the national discourse about un-
derrepresentation of racialized minorities in STEM
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Total (M/W) 540 583 645 671 788 863 849 852 912 948
Total Women 152 151 193 218 235 245 230 224 242 254
Black 9 5 5 11 16 9 9 10 6 9
Hispanic or Latino 6 11 4 5 12 8 9 11 6 7
Native American 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1
White 101 102 132 161 154 168 155 163 170 179
Asian NA NA NA NA NA NA 38 22 34 32
Asian or Pacific Islander 26 20 29 24 27 39 NA NA NA NA
Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander NA NA NA NA NA NA 0 0 0 0
Other 10 13 22 17 25 21 18 15 22 22
Two or More Races NA NA NA NA NA NA 1 4 3 4
Total Men 388 432 452 453 553 618 619 628 670 694
Source: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017 (table 7-7)
Table 2. United States’ Mathematical Sciences Doctorates: Females Compared to White Males 2005-2014
Virginia Mathematics Teacher vol. 44, no. 1 48
broadly. Next, I share some findings from a pilot
study that explored these ideas with undergraduate
Black women in STEM majors at both Predomi-
nately White Institutions and Historically Black
Colleges and Universities. I close the essay by in-
voking Virginia’s unique history of Black excel-
lence in STEM, as conceptualized in Hidden Fig-
ures. This is one way to center possibilities and
build upon a legacy and tradition to transform
Black girls’ mathematics experiences and their
overall lives in the educational system of Virginia.
High School Experiences in Mathematics Shape
Higher Education Success
I recently conducted a pilot study that explored
mathematics identity among undergraduate Black
women STEM majors at different institution types.
Seven Black women participated in a three-part
study that included a one-on-one semi-structured
interview, the creation of an annotated symbolic
artifact of mathematics identity affirmation, and a
focus group based on the movie Hidden Figures. In
this article, I share just a couple of the things that I
learned from these women in their conversations
about Hidden Figures. We discussed what they no-
ticed about the Black women and their roles as
mathematicians, what our mathematics education
system does right and wrong for Black girls, and
what is needed to promote robust mathematics
identities among Black girls. The two themes be-
low were salient in their discussion and have impli-
cations for mathematics teachers.
Limited Access to High Quality Mathematics
The young women articulated a position about the
inequality of schools and the related mathematics
instruction they received as a result of attending
such schools. One participant stated:
I talked to a [White] girl, she said they did-
n’t have desks – they sat in a Socratic style.
They sat around a table, and they were
forced to think out it wasn’t just written
tests, and that’s how you have to think in
order to succeed at these top institutions.
Its more than a paper test. You have to be
able to think outside the box, and if you
haven’t been thinking like that and they’ve
been thinking like that since ninth grade,
you’re not gonna perform at the level.
This quote suggests that Black girls experience
mathematics instruction that is more traditional and
rarely have access to high quality mathematics
teachers, specifically, the type of mathematics
teachers that prepare students to be critical thinkers
(Oakes, 1990a). Oftentimes the schools’ best math-
ematics teachers are given choices of which cours-
es to teach, and many of them choose to teach ad-
vanced mathematics courses and these courses can
include a strikingly different pedagogy. These
courses can be more student-centered and include
more opportunities for critical thinking, rather than
drill and kill and worksheets, which often can be
seen in many of the lower-level courses (Oakes et
al, 2004). We know that the quality of a teacher has
been consistently identified as the most important
school-based factor in student achievement
(McCaffrey, Lockwood, Koretz, & Hamilton,
2003; Rowan, Correnti & Miller, 2002), and that
teacher effects on student learning have been found
to be cumulative and long-lasting (McCaffrey et
al., 2003; Mendro, Jordan, Gomez, Anderson,
Bembry, & Schools, 1998). Therefore, mathemat-
ics teachers can play a role in changing the type of
instruction Black girls receive in their classrooms,
as well as promoting Black girls’ enrollment into
advanced mathematics courses.
Low Expectations from Others.
Not being expected to accomplish greatness was
another salient theme that I learned from the focus
groups. One woman stated emphatically:
We expect White people to succeed and we
expect Black people to fail inherently.
A different young woman expressed her thoughts
about low expectations when she responded:
I think it’s about expectations because they
[White students]—when White kids whose
families have—like they aren’t the first in
their family to go to college, wherever they
go, it’s expected of them to finish. If they
come into engineering, it’s not like, oh, you
[Black girl] may change your major, and
this and that. It’s expected that they’re
[White students] gonna finish. Why is it
that when Black kids go to college and they
Virginia Mathematics Teacher vol. 44, no. 1 49
may be the first in their family, it’s like, are
you sure you gonna be able to do that
These findings suggest that Black girls perceive
that their mathematics teachers and other school
personnel do not believe they will succeed in
STEM fields. Other studies have found that low-
expectation teachers blame Black students, their
families, and their communities for achieving at
lower rates than Whites (Lynn et al., 2010; West-
Olatunji et al., 2010). Some middle-school Black
students struggle academically because of their per-
ceptions of low teacher expectations and the teach-
er-student relationship (Ferguson, 2003; Noguera,
2003). Overall, low expectations can significantly
decrease Black girls’ chances to succeed academi-
cally. To counteract this, mathematics teachers
need to be made aware of how their perceptions
and beliefs impact Black girls’ academic achieve-
ment. We need teachers who have already or can
adopt a disposition of high expectations and une-
quivocal faith in their Black girls to succeed in
learning rigorous mathematics. This can be chal-
lenging because as mathematics teachers, we have
cultural scripts (Stigler & Heibert, 1998) about
what represents success in mathematics, and when
Black girls do not align with that script, we make
assumptions that something is wrong with them,
rather than our own teaching and more importantly,
our system. Overall, these themes help us under-
stand the viewpoints of some Black girls’ experi-
ences in mathematics and that our mathematics ed-
ucation system needs to change if we care about
Black girls succeeding.
Black Girls Becoming Visible in Mathematics:
The Affordances of Virginia’s History of Black
STEM Excellence
Virginia has a robust history of Black ex-
cellence in STEM as seen through the historical
analysis in Shetterly’s (2016) book, Hidden Fig-
ures. We now know that over 20 Black women
worked as human computers or mathematicians at
NASA and contributed to the United States’ suc-
cess in the space program. Shetterly recalled: “that
so many of them were African-American, many of
them my grandmothers’ age, struck me as simply a
part of the natural order of things. Growing up in
Hampton, the face of science was brown like
mine” (p.xiii). She continued, “I knew so many Af-
rican-Americans working in science, math, and en-
gineering that I thought that’s just what Black folks
did” (p. xiii). This history gives mathematics teach-
ers a way to center and engage Black girls in math-
ematics in a meaningful way—helping Black girls
understand the greatness from which they come
and can draw upon.
Virginia is an epicenter of Historically Black
Colleges and Universities focused on STEM and
can serve as spaces to transform the mathematics
teaching and learning experiences of Black girls.
Below, I list a few recommendations about what
mathematics teachers can do to disrupt Black girls’
invisibility in the discipline:
a. Encourage all Black girls to take more mathe-
matics, not less, pushing back against the
tracking system. This is important because it
can open up more opportunities for the pur-
suit of STEM degrees in college (Tyson et al.,
2007). Ways mathematics teachers can do this
is by working with school counselors to find
“bubble” and high-achieving Black girls and
strongly encourage them to take additional
math (if they are not already doing so). It is
more than just telling them to take more math,
but it is about pulling in their families to dis-
cuss together the benefits of such actions as
well as the future consequences for not doing
b. Invite Black women in STEM careers from
local Virginia universities/industries to dia-
logue with Black girls in small groups. Many
Black girls, such as those in my study, may
not even know about or understand different
STEM careers (i.e. engineers, actuaries, sci-
entists, etc.). Finding other math teachers in
your local school district and working togeth-
er to locate these Black women professionals
is one idea for getting at this recommenda-
tion. Mathematics and science teachers also
might survey their Blacks girls to see if they
have family members and/or friends who
work as STEM professionals to come share
their stories.
c. Teach Black girls mathematics through prob-
Virginia Mathematics Teacher vol. 44, no. 1 50
lem posing and discovery, rather than tradi-
tional procedures, allowing them to bring
their full identities to the classroom. Complet-
ing worksheets usually does not stimulate stu-
dents’ minds for discovery and problem pos-
ing. My work with high school Black girls
suggests that they value mathematics teachers
who promote academic and social integration,
while learning mathematics (Dunleavy et al.).
What this might look like in a classroom is
the teacher promoting Black girls to utilize
personal, local, national, or global community
contexts to pose problems that are meaningful
to them. They should be able to produce prob-
lems that are open-ended, relevant, and co-
created with others. This type of learning ex-
perience should be employed from day one of
school and developed all throughout the year
in order to see sustainability.
d. Partner with local HBCU STEM departments
to create programming that provides opportu-
nities for research and mentoring. This is im-
portant because it can increase interest in
STEM fields and college going rates
(Schneider et al., 2013), and graduate school
aspirations (Odera et al., 2015). This can cre-
ate multiple pathways through the pipeline.
These recommendations are not silver bullet an-
swers, as this phenomenon is complex. Our nation
must work to disrupt deficit narratives about Black
girls and the associated myths about mathematics.
Virginia mathematics teachers have a unique op-
portunity to be the “first” to lead this effort in a
systemic way.
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Nicole M. Joseph
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Vanderbilt University
Peabody College of Education and
Human Development
... Additionally, a handful of scholars have addressed how privileging Whiteness in mathematics education (e.g., an assumption of White students' higher ability in math learning and exclusion of students of color from advanced math classes), shapes the expectations, interactions, and kinds of mathematics that students' experience (Martin, 2007;. Research indicates that privileging whiteness supports harmful socialization practices in mathematics classrooms that may undermine Black girls' developing identity as math learners (Hottinger, 2016;Joseph, 2017;Joseph & Alston, 2018;Joseph et al., 2019). ...
... In their case, they recognized that the salience of their racial identity cultivated poorer treatment from teachers, and they had to make a conscious choice to modify their language and behaviors to participate in the classroom. This does not imply that the girls are not proud to be Black but highlights how they made sense of the emergent social norms in the classroom, as well as their devaluation as math learners within those social structures (Joseph, 2017). Future research should continue to understand the use of language, race, and gender in mathematics classrooms, as well as the possibilities of how to create inclusive math learning spaces both within and outside the classroom (Jones, 2003). ...
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Building on extant literature, the present qualitative study explored Black adolescent girls' racial and gendered experiences as mathematics learners. Data collection included focus groups with Black adolescent girls (N = 30, Mage = 12.64 years). Several themes concerning their racialized and gendered schooling experiences emerged, which centered on language use, competition with boys, and working hard to prove themselves. To cope with the racialized and gendered experiences within mathematics classrooms, Black girls developed informal support networks. It was also revealed that some of these coping strategies (e.g., resistance for survival) might put Black girls at risk for lower mathematics beliefs and attitudes. Directions for future research and implications for Black girls as mathematics learners are discussed.
... Ari sensed an ethic of care (Noddings, 2006) and inclusion when her math teacher stopped to pay attention to and address her needs. Some Black girls also tend to be intellectually and emotionally invisible in math classrooms (Joseph, 2017), so when math teachers give them dedicated time to explain math ideas, teachers are also acknowledging the girls' vulnerability as children and adolescents. ...
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This article investigates the implementation of inquiry-oriented instruction in 20 undergraduate mathematics classrooms. In contrast to conventional wisdom that active learning is good for all students, we found gendered performance differences between women and men in the inquiry classes that were not present in a noninquiry comparison sample. Through a secondary analysis of classroom videos, we linked these performance inequities to differences in women’s participation rates across classes. Thus, we provide empirical evidence that simply implementing active learning is insufficient, and that the nature of inquiry-oriented classrooms is highly consequential for improving gender equity in mathematics.
Building upon research utilizing Martin’s Mathematical Socialization and Identity Framework, we examine factors related to community and family involvement to advance the current discourse that informs policies. Data from the High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS:09) public-use file provided a sample of 1,029 Black girls for our analyses. We developed a theoretically-sound inclusive measure, as defined by Black girls, titled the Community and Family Involvement Predictive Scale for Mathematics Outcomes utilizing Nonlinear Principal Components Analysis with a Categorical Principal Components Analysis program. Results are an intersectional measure that considers family, peers, and teachers. Implications for policy include a need for federal, state, and district policymakers to consider a wider variety of contexts, specifically for Black girls, in which community and family partnerships are empowered and prioritized in policies focused on parental involvement.
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Like other women and girls of color in the U.S. education system, Black 1 women and girls negotiate and integrate multiple marginalized identities in mathematics. As such, this integrative review used critical race theory (CRT) and Black feminism as interpretive frames to explore factors that contribute to Black women's and girls' persistence in the mathematics pipeline and the role these factors play in shaping their academic outcomes. A synthesis of 62 research studies reveals that structural disruptions, community influences, and resilience strategies significantly influence Black women's and girls' persistence in mathematics, and that combined, these factors can culminate into a more robust mathematics identity for Black women and girls. A robust mathematics identity, in turn, is an aspect of self-actualization that is needed for persistence, engagement, and sustained success in the pursuit of a mathematics doctoral degree. New questions, paradigms, and ways of examining the experiences of Black women and girls in mathematics to advance further knowledge that will inform policy are identified and discussed as a future research agenda.
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Background/Context Recent sociocultural studies of detracking describe the ways in which notions of ability—local understandings of students’ intellectual capacities—are at play in these settings, shaping both the politics and the practice of the reform. This study extends this examination into the classrooms of detracking schools. Purpose This article considers the enactment of detracking in the ninth grade social studies classrooms of three public high schools. Through a detailed look at classroom life in racially and socioeconomically distinct public high school settings, it explores how local notions of ability shape the implementation of classroom practices in general and of detracking reform in particular. Setting The research took place in three public comprehensive high schools in a northeastern state with the following student populations: 1) low income and predominantly African American and Latino students; 2) high income and predominantly White students; 3) socioeconomically diverse and predominantly African American and White students. Research Design This study used an interpretive research methodology and a multiple case study design. Data Collection and Analysis Data was collected at each of the three schools over the course of an academic year in the following ways: 1) extensive observations of detracked ninth grade social studies classes; 2) interviews with students and teachers participating in those classes; 3) shadowing of students through the school day; 4) collection of school generated documents. Findings/Results At the low income, majority African American and Latino school, detracking reform was framed by a discourse of deficit that posited all of the school's students as unwaveringly low in ability, and classroom practices provided little opportunity for students to either display or develop competence. In contrast, detracking at the suburban, homogeneous school spurred a creative curriculum targeted to the needs of individual students in the heterogeneous classroom, all of whom were presumed to be bright, motivated and college bound despite varied skills. At the racially and socioeconomically integrated school, a community and school system in which people were highly concerned with issues of equity and diversity, teaching practices in the detracked classroom emphasized flexibility and personalization, providing opportunities for students to examine social and cultural issues in a discussion-centered framework. Students, both within and among the three schools, experienced detracking reform in ways that were distinct and not equally beneficial. Conclusions Translating a structural reform into change that is meaningful for students is a complex endeavor. Effective detracking involves changes at multiple levels: in institutional structures, classroom practices, and teacher and student beliefs about ability.
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I introduce the construct of fragile and robust identities for the purpose of exploring the experiences that influenced the mathematical and racial identities of high-achieving Black college students in mathematics and engineering. These students maintained high levels of academic achievement in these fields while enduring marginalization, stereotyping, and other forms of racialization. Their fragile mathematical identities were manifested in the way they were motivated to achieve in order to prove false the negative expectations of others. Their robust mathematical identities were characterized by an evolving sense of self-efficacy and discovery, a growing affinity and passion for mathematics, and a desire to be a mathematically inspiring role model. Extending the work on identity development, I recommend more nuanced interpretations of the interplay of human development, racialized experiences, and distinctly race-related risk and protective factors that complicate mathematical identity formation for Black college students in mathematics and engineering fields.
This chapter examines the lives of the first five Black women who earned doctorates in pure mathematics during the Jim Crow Era.
We all have math stories to tell. The discipline pervades our understanding of who we are. We tend to relate to mathematics in a much more intimate way than we do to most other disciplines. Whether we hated it or loved it, very few of us have neutral feelings about the field. My own math story is no exception. My relationship to mathematics has never been easy, nor has it been consistent; sometimes I hated math and did not think I could achieve success. Sometimes I loved mathematics with so much passion I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. My earliest memory of mathematics is of attending a remedial math class during the summer after kindergarten. I remember asking my mother what "remedial" meant. By third grade, it was well established that mathematics was not one of my strengths, and when I transferred to a new school, I was tracked into the lowest-level math class. In middle school, I began to do better in mathematics, and I discovered, to my surprise, that I enjoyed it. After doing well on a competency test and achieving high marks in class, I told my eighth-grade math teacher that I was interested in enrolling in the honors section of high-school algebra. She told me that was probably not a good idea and encouraged me to enroll in a nonhonors section. I chose not to listen to her. During my sophomore year of college, I declared an undergraduate major in mathematics after a chance conversation with my calculus professor, who told me I was very good at mathematics and that I seemed to have a natural talent. I went on to earn a bachelor's degree in mathematics and graduated with honors, after completing my senior thesis in knot theory. Yet I chose to pursue a doctoral degree in feminist studies rather than mathematics, in large part because I never really believed that I could become a mathematician.
This article takes a critical approach to unsettling the apathy around Black girls’ and women’s mathematics achievement and participation. I discuss how prevailing narratives about White girls and women, as well as Black boys and men, make the existence of coherent narratives of Black girls and women in mathematics essentially impossible. I argue that Black girls and women serve as a referent group providing a quiet, invisible, and menial labor of sanitizing theoretical and empirical spaces for other demographic groups. Using an example, I describe the process through which Black girls and women are rendered invisible in mathematics. To conclude, I call for the creation, occupation, and sharing of positive, socio-epistemic spaces that allow for the visibility of Black girls and women in mathematics.
Background/Context The study examines teachers’ and administrators’ perspectives on the persistent academic failure of African American male high school students. The study took place between 2003 and 2005 in a low-performing high school in Summerfield County, a Black suburban county in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States with a poverty rate below 8%, according to the 2000 United States census. At the time of the study, there were a number of initiatives across the state designed to address what was being referred to as “the minority achievement gap.” The researchers—most of whom were African American faculty and graduate students at the University of Maryland—were interested in understanding what teachers and other school personnel such as counselors and administrators would have to say about why African American students, particularly males, tended to persistently underperform on standardized measures of achievement, had higher rates of suspension and expulsion from school, were overrepresented in special education, and had significantly higher dropout rates than all other subgroups in this mostly Black and middle-class suburban school district. Purpose and Research Questions In the present article, we build on the work of scholars of critical race studies in education and scholars concerned about teachers’ impact on student achievement to explore teachers’ beliefs about African American students, and we discuss the possible implications for African American males in troubled schools. We used critical race ethnographic methods to collect data on the following research questions: (1) How does a low-performing high school in a low-performing school district cope with the persistent problem of African American male underachievement? (2) In particular, how do teachers and administrators understand the problem? (3) How might this impact their ability to work successfully with African American male students? Setting The study took place in Summerfield County, a majority-Black suburban county in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The county is known as the wealthiest Black county in the nation. With over 100,000 students, its school district is one of the largest and lowest performing in the state. At the time of the study, the district was ranked 23rd out of 24 districts in the state in measures of standardized achievement. The research took place in a midsized all-Black high school in a section of the county that is contiguous with one of the poorer sections of a nearby city. The high school, with a 99% Black population of slightly fewer than 1,000 students, was one of the lowest performing high schools in the district. Participants The main participants in the study consisted of two groups: (1) a sample of 50 teachers, administrators, and counselors, and (2) a subsample of 6 teachers in art, music, technology, social studies, and math who participated in ongoing individual interviews, a focus group, and classroom observations. Research Design This study involved a series of focus groups, formal and informal interviews with teachers, counselors, and administrators, and 18 months of ethnographic observations in the school. Conclusions Researchers found that school personnel overwhelmingly blamed students, their families, and their communities for the minority achievement gap. In short, the school was pervaded by a culture of defeat and hopelessness. Ongoing conversations with a smaller group of teachers committed to the success of African American male students revealed that the school was not a safe space for caring teachers who wanted to make a difference in the lives of their students.