Variations in Students' School- and Teacher-Related Attitudes across Gender, Ethnicity, and Age

Article excerpt

The present study examined differences across gender, ethnicity, and age with regard to the nature of participants' self-reported attitudes toward school and teachers, based on previous research suggesting that students' school- and teacher-related attitudes appear to have an influence on academic achievement. This study employed an archival approach using the standardization data (N = 10,140) from the Attitude to School and Attitude to Teachers scales of the Behavior Assessment System for Children Self-Report of Personality. Results of data analyses suggest that in general, males reported more negative attitudes toward both school and teachers; however, the effect sizes for the statistically significant gender differences were rather small. Age was not a significant main effect in any of the analyses for these two scales; there were no consistent patterns of more or less negative attitudes with increasing age for any of the gender or ethnic groups. Perhaps the most notable finding in the present study was a trend toward Hispanics reporting the most negative attitudes toward school while also reporting the most positive attitudes toward teachers. This finding suggests that there are factors other than teachers that contribute to Hispanics' negative perceptions of school; the exploration of these factors represents an important area for future research.

Keywords: Attitudes, School, Teachers, Gender, Ethnicity, Age

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It is estimated that in 2003, 9.9% of individuals aged 16-24 years were not enrolled in high school and had not obtained their high school diploma (Laird, Lew, DeBell, & Chapman, 2006). The implications of not earning a high school diploma include short-and long-term impact on career options and earning potential (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999) and a four-fold increased risk of unemployment (Edmondson & White, 1998). Research also supports an interaction between achievement and psychopathology (Hawkins, Catalano, Kosterman, Abbott, & Hill, 1999). School contexts provide a critical environment for the multitude of interactions that mediate the attainment of academic skills and foster cognitive, social, and affective development. Students who do not complete high school therefore may suffer from poor psychological outcomes as a result of failing to develop these skills and competencies within the school setting.

One potential source of school underachievement among children and adolescents may be classified as negative school-related attitudes. Research suggests that negative attitudes towards school are associated with lower achievement, lower expectations of future success, and antisocial behaviors (Brier, 1995). Students with negative attitudes toward school also are likely to have poor relationships with teachers (Baker, 1999). There is considerable evidence that positive, supportive relationships with adults, including positive relations with school staff, improve outcomes for children (Masten & Reed, 2002; Resnick et al., 1997). Further, difficulty getting along with teachers and dissatisfaction with school appear to be common reasons students give for dropping out (Loughrey & Harris, 1990); research suggests that students who drop out of school perceive their teachers as unfair, disinterested, and uncaring (Murdock, 1999; Tidwell, 1988). For middle school students, positive relations with teachers have been found to be associated with achievement, feelings of belonging, interest in school, and academic motivation (Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 1998).

Evidence suggests that the process of disengagement from the academic environment begins prior to students entering high school, probably initiating in elementary grades (Einsminger & Slusarcick, 1992). Transition from elementary to middle school is associated with changes in school structure, variable classroom organizations and teaching styles, and differing teacher expectations, as well as changes in academic demands and standards (e. …