Black pupils receive harsher penalties and, as a result, resist what they see as an "unequal exercise of power," said Cecile Wright, speaking at her inaugural professorial lecture at Nottingham Trent University.
Their underachievement often leads to social exclusion - yet many excluded African-Caribbean children are keen to continue their education and are capable of achieving success.
Professor Wright, who has been researching the underachievement of black children for 20 years, said: "The ability of black children is clearly apparent when they begin secondary schooling, but it is often the process of education in secondary schools which results in them underachieving."
She believes mainstream schools have much to learn from supplementary Saturday schools.
"These voluntary schools provide an important role in raising self-esteem and providing a curriculum that is of relevance to black children," she said.
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association says there is not enough time for schools and councils to produce new policies to promote racial equality, as required by a change in the law.
The new equality policies are meant to be in place by May 31, but guidance from the Commission for Racial Equality has still not been finalised.