Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Elina Lampert-Shepel


The disparity in test scores, known as the achievement gap, between African American and European American students has persisted despite research and reforms. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine what African American community members in a North Carolina school district perceived as the causes of the local achievement gap and what support they believed they could offer to close the gap. The theories of cultural-historical psychology, social cognition, learned helplessness, social disorganization, and the funds of knowledge concept, guided the data collection from the 3 focus groups from the local community. Each focus group contained 6 to 7 people who were below, at, or above median income. They included members of the local African American community such as business people, parents, educators, and clergy. Open and selective data coding procedures organized data into major themes. The major themes were past school experience, parental role, and community involvement. All focus groups identified the lack of support from the African American community as the primary cause of the achievement gap. They suggested that the local African American community would develop an academic community support system. These findings informed the design of The Village Builder's Project to establish a collaborative community mentoring system that offers a team of business people mentors, academic supervisors, and elderly advisors for each student. When assigned to low performing K-12 African American students, this network of mentors has the potential to reduce the achievement gap and produce positive social change in terms of improved academic achievement of African American students in a local community.