Rethinking the Achievement Gap: A Holistic Humanistic View of Student Academic Performance and Lack of Performance

Immaculata Anayo Chukwunyere, University of South Carolina - Columbia


This dissertation is an ethnographic case study that explored minority and low SES inner city high school students’ perception and sense-making of school, learning, academic behaviors, and academic achievement through an integrated theory of human development, learning, and achievement. I sought an understanding of the reason behind the persistent academic failure of inner city minority and low SES high school students, as well as the academic achievement gap within and between this subgroup of students. The aim of this study was threefold. First, I explored the factors operating in high school students’ thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions to school and academic achievement. Second, I examined the mechanisms by which these factors operate. Third, I utilized an integrated humanistic paradigm in analyzing student learning and academic achievement. The integrated framework for this study comprised of Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of human development, Bandura’s sociocoginity theory of learning, and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus. Using prolonged engagement, interviews, focus group, fieldnotes, diaries, and documents, I generated information rich data that enabled me to answer the following questions: 1. How do minority and low SES students perceive and make-sense of school and schooling? 2. How does the bidirectional interaction between student characteristics and school processes and procedures impact student academic behavior and school culture.