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Socioeconomics, culture, and race: An analysis of the achievement of middle-class African American students

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Donica L Cuspard-Hightower
Abstract:
Existing research suggests that students who are successful academically are among other things, products of homes that are financially stable (Payne 1996; Rothstein, 2004a). However, this may not be the case for all middle-class African Americans (Lynch, 2006; Ogbu, 2002; Thompson, 2005). In some instances, the academic performance of middle-class African American students' is similar to low-income African American students (Cashin, 2004; Thernstorm & Thernstorm, 2003). The purpose of this study was to describe the culture and behaviors of an elementary school to identify reasons for the low performance of middle-class African American students and to propose solutions to the educational community in minimizing the obstacles that affect teaching and learning. The uniqueness of this study was its focus on the achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students, a rarely studied population. The professional behaviors, beliefs, and instructional methods of six educators were observed and documented in order to understand the disproportionately low academic performance of middle-class African American students at an elementary school. This study differed from other studies because the majority of studies traditionally have focused on the academic performance of students from lower economic families. Using a qualitative approach, a case study was used to examine educators' perceptions of the behavioral differences and similarities of middle-class African American and middle-class European American students at a suburban school. Observations, field notes, a researcher's journal, a participant's demographic questionnaire, and individual and focus group interviews were used to collect data to explain the achievement gap evident at the participating school. The findings represent the collective voice of the six teachers used in the study. The findings of this study suggested that the achievement of middle-class African American students is affected by the school culture, school leadership, and personal choices. The characteristics of a school culture that influences the achievement of middle-class students is parental involvement, grade inflation, stakeholders' expectations, effective leadership, teacher-student relations, and the lack of resources. The achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students is perpetuated because of gender differences, educational values, and refusal of success. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the strategies that could be implemented in school districts to minimize the achievement gap are professional development, differentiated instruction, relationship building, accountability, cultural diversity, and team collaboration.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v LIST OF TABLES xiii LIST OF FIGURES xiv LIST OF APPENDICES xv ABSTRACT xvi CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Statement of the Problem 7 Purpose of the Study 8 Research Questions 8 Theoretical Frameworks 9 Critical Race Theory 9 Oppositional Theory 10 Stereotype Threat 12 Importance of the Study 15 Procedures 15 Definition of Terms 17 Limitations 19 Delimitations of the Study 20 Summary 21 2. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 22 Introduction 22 Cultural Ethnic Groups 23 Understanding Class Views and Values 25 Understanding Culture 28 Family Structure 29 Middle-class and the Black Family 31 viii

CHAPTER Page Characteristics of the Black Middle-Class 36 Family Structure and Education 38 Acting White 41 Educating Middle-class Black and Middle-class White Students 43 Obstructions to African American Academic Acheivement 45 Issues Related to Educating Middle-class Black Students 47 Historical Background and Implications of the Achievement Gap 51 Possible Solutions to Close the Achievement Gap 54 Previous Studies Conducted in Affluent African American Communities.... 57 Improving the Academic Conditions of Minority Students 58 Effective Leadership Strategies for Successful Schools of African American Students 60 Summary 61 3. METHODOLOGY 62 Introduction 62 Research Questions 64 Design of the Study 65 Site Selection 66 Setting 68 Participant Selection 70 Researcher's Role 71 Data Sources 73 Data Collection Methods 77 Audiotaped Interviews 77 Observations 79 Fieldnotes 79 Demographic Questionnaires 81 Researcher's Journal 81 Trustworthiness and Credibility 81 Data Analysis 83 Procedures 87 Reporting the Data 88 Timeline of the Study 88 Summary 89 4. RESULTS 91 Introduction 91 Meeting the Participants 92 ix

CHAPTER Page Carl 93 Beth 96 Melisa 98 Stacy 99 Lisa 101 Fiona 102 Defining the Achievement Gap 105 Characteristics of a School Culture that Contribute to the Achievement Gap 108 Parental Involvement 109 Involvement of the Administrative Team I l l Stakeholder Expectations 113 Lack of Resources 116 School Culture and Minimizing the Achievement Gap 117 Parental Involvement 118 Teacher-Student Relationships 119 Effective Leadership 121 Prevention of Academic Performance of Middle-Class Black Students 123 Educational Values 123 Gender Differences 126 Refusing Success 127 Strategies that Positively Influence Academic Performance 130 Differentiated Instruction 130 Forming Positive Relationships 135 Collaboration 138 Exposure and Experiences 140 Relationship between School Administrators and Student Achievement 141 High Expectations 142 Building Relationships 142 Creating Professional Learning Opportunities 144 Instructional Leadership 145 Strategies for Leaders to Close the Achievement Gap 147 Accountability 147 Communication 148 Cultural Awareness 150 Summary 151 5. DISCUSSION, CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS 154 Introduction 154 Summary of the Study 156 The Purpose 158 x

CHAPTER Page Theoretical Framework Revisted 162 The Achievement Gap 165 Characteristics of a School Culture that Contribute to the Achievement Gap 169 Characteristics of a School Culture that Encourage the Achievement of Middle-Class African Americans 172 Characteristics that Prevent Success of Middle-Class African American Students 174 Strategies that Positively Influence Academic Performance 176 Relationship between School Administrators and Student Achievement 177 Strategies for Leaders to Close the Achievement Gap 179 Additional Findings 181 Generational Gap 181 Fourth Grade Slump 183 African American Boys 184 Implications 187 Recommendations for Further Research 190 Summary 191 Conclusions 192 APPENDICES A Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Did Not the Standards (Level 1) 2007-2008 195 B Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Did Not the Standards (Level 1) 2006-2007 197 C Changes in Populations and Level 1 Performance from 2006-2008 199 D Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Exceeded the Standards (Level 3) 2007-2008 201 E Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Exceeded the Standards (Level 3) 2006-2007 203 F Changes in Populations and Level 3 Performance from 2006-2008 205 G Invitation to Participate in the Study 207 H Participant Demographic Questionnaire 209 xi

I Individual Interview Questions 211 J Focus Group Interview Questions 213 L Mercer Consent Form 215 REFERENCES ". 219 xn

LIST OF TABLES Table 1 Percentage of 8th Grade Students in Shaker Heights, Ohio Meeting Proficiency on State-Wide Test by Race 6 2 Mean Scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in Shaker Heights by Race 7 3 Timeline for Data Collection and Analysis 89 4 Participant Demographic Questionnaire Results 83 xiii

LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1 Common Themes of the Theoretical Frameworks 14 2 Common Themes and Findings Related to the Theoretical Frameworks 165 xiv

APPENDICES Appendix A Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Did Not the Standards (Level 1) 2007-2008 Appendix B Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Did Not the Standards (Level 1) 2006-2007 Appendix C Changes in Populations and Level 1 Performance from 2006-2008 Appendix D Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Exceeded the Standards (Level 3) 2007-2008 Appendix E Percentage of Students at Neal Elementary Who Exceeded the Standards (Level 3) 2006-2007 Appendix F Changes in Populations and Level 3 Performance from 2006-2008 Appendix G Invitation to Participate in the Study Appendix H Participant Demographic Questionnaire Appendix I Individual Interview Questions Appendix J Focus Group Interview Questions Appendix L Mercer Consent Form xv

ABSTRACT DONICA L. CUSPARD-HIGHTOWER SOCIOECONOMICS, CULTURE, AND RACE: AN ANALYSIS OF THE ACHIEVEMENT OF MIDDLE-CLASS AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS Under the direction of OLIVIA M. BOGGS AND MARY H. O'PHELAN Existing research suggests that students who are successful academically are among other things, products of homes that are financially stable (Payne 1996; Rothstein, 2004a). However, this may not be the case for all middle-class African Americans (Lynch, 2006; Ogbu, 2002; Thompson, 2005). In some instances, the academic performance of middle-class African American students' is similar to low-income African American students (Cashin, 2004; Thernstorm & Thernstorm, 2003). The purpose of this study was to describe the culture and behaviors of an elementary school to identify reasons for the low performance of middle-class African American students and to propose solutions to the educational community in minimizing the obstacles that affect teaching and learning. The uniqueness of this study was its focus on the achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students, a rarely studied population. The professional behaviors, beliefs, and instructional methods of six educators were observed and documented in order to understand the disproportionately low academic performance of middle-class African xvi

American students at an elementary school. This study differed from other studies because the majority of studies traditionally have focused on the academic performance of students from lower economic families. Using a qualitative approach, a case study was used to examine educators' perceptions of the behavioral differences and similarities of middle-class African American and middle-class European American students at a suburban school. Observations, field notes, a researcher's journal, a participant's demographic questionnaire, and individual and focus group interviews were used to collect data to explain the achievement gap evident at the participating school. The findings represent the collective voice of the six teachers used in the study. The findings of this study suggested that the achievement of middle-class African American students is affected by the school culture, school leadership, and personal choices. The characteristics of a school culture that influences the achievement of middle-class students is parental involvement, grade inflation, stakeholders' expectations, effective leadership, teacher-student relations, and the lack of resources. The achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students is perpetuated because of gender differences, educational values, and refusal of success. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the strategies that could be implemented in school districts to minimize the achievement gap are professional development, differentiated instruction, relationship building, accountability, cultural diversity, and team collaboration. xvii

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION None of the versions of the class-inequity can explain why Black students from similar social class backgrounds, residing in the same neighborhood, and attending the same school, don't do as well as White students. Within the Black population, of course, middle-class children do better, on the average, than lower class children, just as in the White population. However, when Blacks and Whites from similar socioeconomic backgrounds are compared, one sees that Black students at every class level perform less well in school than their White counterparts (Ogbu, 2003, p. 35) Ogbu's (2003) quote explains the academic disparities occurring in the Shaker Heights community during a study conducted in 1997. Although this study brought attention to the academic disparities between the middle-class African American and middle-class European American students in this suburban Ohio city, gaps in the academic performance between these two populations of students are mirrored in other communities with similar socioeconomic status. The purpose of the study was to bring a sense of understanding, sensitivity, and solutions to the academic performance of the African American students in this affluent area. The academic plight of the middle-class African American students in Shaker Heights, Ohio was no different from that of their African American peers with low socioeconomic status; therefore, the community sought answers to uncover the cause for this occurrence. Theoretically, middle-class Black students should be reaping the benefits of the educational system, but these students are underperforming and underachieving 1

2 when compared to their White counterparts of the same socioeconomic status (Ogbu, 1992). The academic achievement gap between Black and White students is both historical and pervasive throughout the nation (Cashin, 2004). Traditionally, studies have attributed the dismal academic performance of Black students (in comparison to their White peers) to low socioeconomic status (SES); however, educational research has revealed that White students tend to outperform Black students regardless of SES (Lacy, 2007; Ogbu, 1992). Academic excellence and the quality of life for individuals are two important goals of education (Lee & Burkam, 2002). Research documents that early academic success in school establishes patterns that will be easily identified in successful adults. According to the guidelines established in the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (NCLB), the overall goal of public education is that all students regardless of race, culture, and socioeconomic status will receive equal treatment and achieve academic success (Bainbridge & Lasley, 2002). Unfortunately, the educational system is not accomplishing this goal for every child. These concerns require finding the cause of the problem in order for solutions to be developed and implemented. Bainbridge and Lasley (2002) assert that social class rather than race influences academic achievement. This generalization may or may not be applicable to every situation in which social class and race are examined. Lareau (2003), Payne (1996), and others support the belief that low academic performance is a result of lingering racism. The landmark work of sociologist E. Franklin Frazier (1957) suggests that this view is a result of inherent racial differences or racism. Researchers also suggest that a key

3 predictor of a child's academic performance is the socioeconomic status of the family and the education level of the parents (Bainbridge & Lasley, 2002; Rothstein, 2004b). Historical research indicates that non-minority, middle-class parents are conscientious about their children's education (Thompson, 2005); however, Ogbu (1992) maintains that Black middle-class parents demonstrate an equal level of concern for their children. Unfortunately, the validity of this statement is questioned when educational researchers are unable to clarify the reason(s) why many middle-class African American children make lower grades in school when compared to other ethnic groups; are underrepresented in advanced placement courses; and score lower on standardized tests as compared to their non-minority and Asian peers despite the value that their parents place on education (1992). Although educational researchers debate the issue of the achievement gap between middle-class White and Black students, examining the struggles and successes of middle-class Blacks from a historical perspective may provide a global perspective on this problem that permeates America's classrooms. Frazier's (1957) Black Bourgeoisie is a seminal work that is credited as the first publication to acknowledge the existence of a Black middle-class. Frazier asserts that stratification in the Black caste system could be traced to slavery and continued to exist long after the odious practice ended. Slaves were classified as either "field Negroes" or "house Negroes". Field Negroes completed menial tasks associated with planting, producing, and harvesting crops while house Negroes worked inside of the slave owner's residence completing household duties such as cooking, cleaning, and serving. Although slave owners made the initial distinction between the two groups, the perceived roles of

4 each group led to the slaves' forming certain perceptions of each other. Field Negroes were considered to be a hard working, righteous group, and the house Negroes were considered to be unreliable. Field Negroes resented the preferential treatment that house Negroes received from their White masters, and considered house Negroes untrustworthy. In addition, house Negroes were perceived to strongly identify with the White masters in their mannerisms and viewed field Negroes as inferior. Since the publication of Frazier's work in 1957, authors have paid more attention to the norms and values of the Black middle-class. Robinson (1995) states that the Black middle-class has been a harassed and criticized group of individuals. He suggests that in many instances, Blacks fear association with the middle-class because of the repercussions from other members of the ethnic group. Other Blacks may perceive their middle-class members as "sell-outs," or as Frazier (1957) explains, African Americans who prefer to assimilate and epitomize the ideals of the mainstream culture instead of exhibiting traditional characteristics inherent of Black culture (i.e., vernacular, dress, etc.). African Americans who distance themselves from stereotypical images and connect with the Americanized middle-class norms and values send a silent message that Black lower class cultural norms are inferior (Frazier, 1957; Moore, 2008; Robinson, 1995). Presently, those who distrust the norms and values of the Black middle-class and the possibilities of academic achievement as a result of the lifestyle consider these individuals to be representative of a house Negro (Borchert, 2008; Robinson, 1995). Hence, some individuals lack the desire to be characterized as middle-class, which

implies that they have attained a certain status that is sometimes perceived as negative. Furthermore, this may provide a rationale of why many middle-class Blacks are willing to allow the lower class Black lifestyle to be referred to as "authentic Black culture". Unfortunately, this belief allows rap artists to become role models and Black professionals to become sellouts (Robinson, 1995; Ruebeck, Averett, Bodenhorn, 2009). According to Attewell, Lavin, Domina, and Levey (2004), at least one quarter of African American families are middle-class according to income, education, and occupation. The location of the middle-class population is mostly concentrated in predominately-Black suburbs that are not homogeneously middle-class (Lacy, 2007). Living in a segregated environment does not afford middle-class Blacks the same opportunities that they would have if they lived in predominately-White suburbs or in strictly middle-class professional Black communities. Unfortunately, the only means in which middle-class African Americans can maintain their social status is if their children surpass the accomplishments of their parents in terms of education and employment. (Attewell et al., 2004). Middle-class African American children (unlike children of other ethnic groups) have more outside influences that have the potential to thwart their efforts in maintaining their parents' social status (Cole & Omari, 2003; Rothstein, 2004b). In addition to the physical setting of a child's home, many researchers suggest that a child's academic performance, including scores achieved on standardized tests, can be attributed to family background, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (Lee & Burkam, 2002). Ogbu (2003) disputes other researchers' assertions concerning the low academic achievement among African American students. His research in Shaker Heights, Ohio

specifically focuses on understanding the performance for middle-class African American students. Ogbu believes that there are cultural or other characteristics specific to middle-class Black students that discourage achievement. Ogbu suggests that this phenomenon is a result of Black middle-class students purposely not completing assignments or working halfheartedly for fear of being characterized as acting White. Ogbu's (2003) observations in Shaker Heights revealed that middle-class Black students residing in this city outperformed their Black peers in the state; however, eighth grade proficiency test (see Table 1) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) results (see Table 2) showed that middle-class Black students scored lower than their middle-class Whites peers in every content area. Although the disparities in the achievement of middle-class Black and White students has begun to command the attention of researchers, empirical evidence provides a rationale or explains why students of the same social order (but different ethnic groups) perform at disproportionate rates is sparse. Table 1 Percentage of Eighth Grade Students in Shaker Heights, Ohio Meeting Proficiency on Statewide Test by Race Blacks Whites State Average Reading 83 100 64 Math 37 92 21 Writing 77 93 45 Science 48 91 23

Table 2 Mean Scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in Shaker Heights, Ohio by Race Verbal Math Blacks 485 471 Whites 600 598 State Average 464 441 US Average 434 422 Whether or not a researcher supports the views of lingering racism, peer pressure or other issues that are specific to the achievement of middle-class African American students, it is imperative to know the characteristics and the factors that influence academic achievement. Whether the characteristics that are being examined are negative or positive, it is necessary to address those concerns so that the achievement gap that exists between middle-class Black and White students can be minimized. Statement of the Problem An abundance of research has been conducted to explain the connection between social class and academic achievement (Ornstein, 1984; Payne, 1996; Swain, 2006a; White, Reynolds, Thomas, & Gutzlaff, 1993). The findings of these studies suggest that social class of students directly correlates with their academic success. Additionally, academic success is guaranteed when schools and/or school districts have significant amounts of financial and human resources, family support, and a positive school culture

8 (Payne, 1996). The educational literature also contains few studies with findings that addresses African American students' continuous struggle in America's classrooms even when proper resources are available (Kunjufu, 2005a). Until educators address this problem and attempt to assist middle-class African American students who are academically unsuccessful, America will continue to lag behind other countries in producing a competent and skilled workforce. Purpose of the Study This study sought to add to the limited body of literature that addresses the disparity in the academic achievement of middle-class African American students and their middle-class European American peers. This study also describes the culture and behaviors at an elementary school to identify reasons for the low performance of middle- class African American students and to propose solutions to the educational community in minimizing the obstacles that affect teaching and learning. Research Questions This study was guided by the following research questions: 1. What are the characteristics of a school culture that (a) contribute to the achievement gap between middle-class African American students and middle-class European American students and (b) encourage middle-class African Americans to academically achieve at the same rate as their middle-class European American peers? 2. What characteristics prevent middle-class African American students from attaining academic success?

9 3. According to teachers and teacher-leaders, what strategies influence the academic performance of middle-class African American students? 4. What is the relationship between school administrators and student achievement? 5. What strategies can educational leaders employ to minimize the achievement gap between middle-class African American and middle-class European American students? Theoretical Frameworks Despite the financial resources that middle-class African American families are able to offer their children, middle-class parents seem to be unable to escape low academic performance of their children (Oakes, 1985; Sizemore, 2008). Prior to the research period of this study, three interrelated theories were selected to undergird the study. Critical race theory (CRT), oppositional theory, and stereotype threat were chosen due to the implications that each theory has on explaining Black identity, the overall development of an individual's personality and values, and student achievement. Critical Race Theory Critical race theory (CRT) emerged during the Civil Rights Movement from minority law students who sought justice in the manner in which power and race were wielded in the United States' legal system (Crenshaw, 1995). For example, proponents of CRT exposed that despite legislature that was passed during the Civil Rights Movement to assist in reducing racism that plagued individuals of color, Whites benefitted more than Blacks because the new laws were often ignored (Edwards & Schmidt, 2006). CRT is based on the following premises: (a) people desiring to counteract racism should be given

10 a voice; (b) changes for people of color can be accomplished without radical changes; and (c) stories that are told by people of color are legitimate because of the oral tradition associated with this group of people (counter storytelling) (Edwards & Schmidt, 2006). English (2008) asserts that CRT can be summed up as the antidote to the epidemic of racism that spills over in educational institutions. Racism is not individualistic, but ingrained within institutional structures of a large number of social agencies. The purpose of CRT is to bring awareness to end racial inequality and oppression of people of color. In addition, CRT proposes that scholars have a tendency to avoid admitting the role that race plays in providing unequal educational opportunities for children in America's schools. Oppositional Theory The next theory used for this study was oppositional theory. The concept of the oppositional culture is relevant in understanding the educational achievement of African American students. Blacks have longed to attain equal educational opportunities (Ogbu, 2008). After slavery, one of the first systems that African Americans sought to establish was an educational system. Unfortunately, the efforts of those who championed this cause found that securing successful educational equality for African Americans has been difficult to obtain over the years. Hence, the concept of "acting White" emerged as a coping strategy of those Blacks wishing to be perceived as successful. Ogbu insisted that large numbers of African Americans who "acted White" was prevalent before the end of the Civil War and this behavior evolved more during the Civil War as Blacks continued to imitate the same behavior and speech patterns as Whites. However, after

11 Emancipation, Blacks were required to behave and talk the way Whites behaved and spoke. The individuals that did not comply with the "required" mannerisms appeared to be oppositional, giving birth to oppositional theory. The concept of oppositional cultural identity became prevalent during the sixties through the Black Power Movement. As the philosophy gained popularity, so did the pride of African Americans denoted in the powerful slogan "Black is Beautiful" (Anderson & Cromwell, 1977; Ogbu, 2003; Sniderman & Piazza, 2002). Ogbu's (2003) oppositional theory can also be applied to the educational system to explain the actions of Black individuals who contradict the norms of society. This theory claims that the premise of oppositional culture is the result of a history of employment discrimination explaining why economically disadvantaged African American students have developed a culture that perceives academic achievement of Black individuals as "acting White". Black culture has included the term to refer to African Americans who not only speak and possess mannerisms associated with non- minorities, but to characterize academically successful, but allegedly arrogant, minority students who are shunned by their peers as well (2003). The concept of acting White can also be defined as a set of social interactions in which minority adolescents do not find favor with their peers when they receive good grades. In some instances, these students are unable to celebrate their accomplishments and are less popular than their White peers when they do well academically (Ogbu, 2003). There are some inconsistencies among scholars when defining the term "acting White", but most definitions concur that the term has a negative connotation and refer to

12 ridicule endured by Blacks (at the hands of their minority peers) for engaging in behaviors that are characterized as White (Horvat & O'Connor, 2006). Fordham and Ogbu (1986) suggest that the problems associated with the academic achievement of African American students arose partly because of White Americans traditionally refuse to acknowledge that Blacks are capable of intellectual achievement. Another suggestion by these researchers is that Black Americans consequently began to doubt their own intellectual ability because of these beliefs. Blacks also began to define academic success as only a privilege of Whites and this belief extended to unconsciously discouraging Black students and their peers from imitating Whites to achieve academic success (1986). Any mannerisms that are purposeful so that an individual cannot associate with American standards are considered actions addressed in oppositional theory. Stereotype Threat Negative perceptions of African Americans are still relevant in today's society and these beliefs have proven to have an effect on the educational outcomes of these individuals. Traditionally, Blacks have been known to score lower on standardized tests than their White counterparts (Steele & Aronson, 1995). The authors also argued that this occurrence is more the result of stereotype threat. Individuals are aware of stereotypes and Steele and Aronson argue that negative stereotypes can be extremely harmful, especially if they are stressed in any environment. As a result, stereotype threats can alter the academic achievement and motivation of students that are aware of stereotypes. Some stereotypes associated with achievement are (a) Asian-Americans do extremely well in

Full document contains 244 pages
Abstract: Existing research suggests that students who are successful academically are among other things, products of homes that are financially stable (Payne 1996; Rothstein, 2004a). However, this may not be the case for all middle-class African Americans (Lynch, 2006; Ogbu, 2002; Thompson, 2005). In some instances, the academic performance of middle-class African American students' is similar to low-income African American students (Cashin, 2004; Thernstorm & Thernstorm, 2003). The purpose of this study was to describe the culture and behaviors of an elementary school to identify reasons for the low performance of middle-class African American students and to propose solutions to the educational community in minimizing the obstacles that affect teaching and learning. The uniqueness of this study was its focus on the achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students, a rarely studied population. The professional behaviors, beliefs, and instructional methods of six educators were observed and documented in order to understand the disproportionately low academic performance of middle-class African American students at an elementary school. This study differed from other studies because the majority of studies traditionally have focused on the academic performance of students from lower economic families. Using a qualitative approach, a case study was used to examine educators' perceptions of the behavioral differences and similarities of middle-class African American and middle-class European American students at a suburban school. Observations, field notes, a researcher's journal, a participant's demographic questionnaire, and individual and focus group interviews were used to collect data to explain the achievement gap evident at the participating school. The findings represent the collective voice of the six teachers used in the study. The findings of this study suggested that the achievement of middle-class African American students is affected by the school culture, school leadership, and personal choices. The characteristics of a school culture that influences the achievement of middle-class students is parental involvement, grade inflation, stakeholders' expectations, effective leadership, teacher-student relations, and the lack of resources. The achievement gap between middle-class African American and European American students is perpetuated because of gender differences, educational values, and refusal of success. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the strategies that could be implemented in school districts to minimize the achievement gap are professional development, differentiated instruction, relationship building, accountability, cultural diversity, and team collaboration.