Monday, November 22, 2010

The social cost to academic achievement

A very interesting new study about the phenomenon of "acting white", with nuanced results:

Such a study has at last been published.

It used a sample of over 13,000 students, averaging about 15 years old. Social acceptance was measured with a simple 4 question interview that asked whether they felt socially accepted, and the frequency with which they felt lonely, felt disliked, or felt people were unfriendly to them.

The study took measures at two time points and examined the change in social acceptance across the year. The question of interest is whether students' academic achievement (measured as grade point average) at Time 1 was related to the change in social acceptance over the course of the year.

For White, Latino, and Asian students, it was—positively. That is, the higher a student's GPA was at Time 1, the more likely it was that his or her social acceptance would increase during the coming year. It was not a big effect, but it was present.

For African American and Native American students the opposite was true. A higher GPA predicted *lower* social acceptance during the following year. This effect was stronger than the positive effect for the other ethnic groups.

Thus, it seemed that the simpler version of the "acting white" hypothesis was supported.

But the story turned out to be a bit more complicated.

Further analyses showed that there was a social penalty for high achieving African Americans *only* at schools with a small percentage of black students. The cost was not present at high-achieving schools with mostly African-American students, or at any low-achieving schools.


The social cost to academic achievement

By Daniel Willingham

(Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and author of "Why Don't Students Like School?")

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