A tremendous body of research explores the individual level and school related factors that predict poor school attachment, engagement and outcomes, especially in urban contexts. Much less, however, is known about the role of community indicators in facilitating or impeding educational success. This research proposes a socio-ecological perspective to understand the correlates and consequences of low academic attainment in distressed communities. Specifically, we situate individual level characteristics in a larger framework to understand the role of systematic inequality in academic achievement across various demographics. Our hypothesis is that this entails an understanding of both in-school and out-of-school determinants of school performance, including community-based violence. Moreover, our model considers the systemic interactions between institutions such as family, school, community and political/policy environments to explain the variance in the black-white achievement gap that pervades the American educational system today. Furthermore, our policy recommendation is that in order to close this gap, educators and school administrators need to be well versed in the variety of issues youth face outside of school that affect their performance in school for a child’s interaction with the education system cannot be divorced from his or her socioecology.