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Abstract

A perennial challenge for urban education in the United States is finding effective ways to address the academic achievement gap between African American and White students. There is widespread and justified concern about the persistence of this achievement gap. In fact, historical evidence suggests that this achievement gap has existed at various times for groups other than African Americans. What conditions prevailed when this achievement gap existed for these other groups? Conversely, under what conditions did the gap diminish and eventually disappear for these groups? This article explores how sociocultural factors involved in the manifestation and eventual disappearance of the gap for these groups may shed some light on how to address the achievement gap for African American students in urban science classrooms. Our conclusion is that the sociocultural position of groups is crucial to understanding and interpreting the scholastic performance of students from various backgrounds. We argue for a research framework and the exploration of research questions incorporating insights from Ogbu's cultural, ecological theory, as well as goal theory, and identity theory. We present these as theories that essentially focus on student responses to societal disparities. Our ultimate goal is to define the problem more clearly and contribute to the development of research-based classroom practices that will be effective in reducing and eventually eliminating the achievement gap. We identify the many gaps in society and the schools that need to be addressed in order to find effective solutions to the problem of the achievement gap. Finally, we propose that by understanding the genesis of the gap and developing strategies to harness the students' responses to societal disparities, learning can be maximized and the achievement gap can be significantly reduced, if not eliminated entirely, in urban science classrooms. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 38: 1101–1114, 2001