While our nation claims that we provide “equal learning opportunities” for all, the Black-White achievement gap still exists. This leads to a variety of political, economic, and social ramifications for our students. With this said, seldom are studies conducted that disprove the countless theories that explain why African-American students are at-risk for academic success.
As an attempt to determine environmental factors that contribute to the achievement gap between African-American and Caucasian students, it is important to gain a greater understanding of how academically successful African-American students have managed to translate their struggles and experiences of oppression into academic success (Griffin & Allen, 2006).
Resiliency and risk have been studied for more than 40 years. Many African-American students succeed in school despite living in single-parent, impoverished families. Some African-American students from this background successfully emerge from high risk environments, coping and overcoming dire circumstances (Floyd, 1997). Children living in single-parent families (particularly those mother-headed) are at a greater risk for negative outcomes than those in two-headed families (Brody & Murry, 1999).
In this study, the experiences of 13 academically successful sixth through eighth grade African-American boys living in single parent, impoverished homes in an urban school district in the Midwest were explored. Through demographic questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, the self-reported factors as contributing to the students’ academic success were identified.
The answers to the following research question were explored: What experiences (at home, in their peer community, and at school) do academically successful African-American middle-school boys living in single parent, impoverished homes report as contributing to their academic success?
In this qualitative study, the students reported a number of factors as contributing to their academic success. Grounded theory and the constant comparison methodology were used to obtain the findings and identify domains. They included: strategies for success, future orientation, motivating factors, homework, access to resources at home and in the community, and relationship with mother.
Information from this study can be used to help educators analyze and examine current educational practices that are in place and re-think ways to meet the emotional and environmental needs of the students they serve.