Minority Students Desire to Achieve

By Fletcher, Michael | The New Crisis, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Minority Students Desire to Achieve


Fletcher, Michael, The New Crisis


The yawning achievement gap separating Black and Latino students and their White and Asian counterparts has been one of the most vexing problems facing American educators for decades.

The gap has existed since the earliest days of standardized testing. It closed substantially between the 1960s and 1980s, as schools became better funded and better integrated and more Blacks and Latinos made the jump to the middle class. But progress stalled afterward, baffling analysts and causing them to look for answers not in school but in the lives of children. Some concluded that Black students, in particular, are part of an "anti-intellectual culture" that ridicules high achievers as "acting White."

But new research into student attitudes is casting serious doubt on that theory. A recently released survey by the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), a national consortium of 15 suburban school systems searching for ways to close the achievement gap, found that Blacks and Latinos are as likely as Whites and Asians to be eager, ambitious students.

Rather than being part of peer groups that encourage sour, self-defeating attitudes toward school, the survey found Black and Latino students were slightly more likely than Whites and Asians to report that their friends think it is very important to study hard and get good grades.

"The big deal here is that there is no evidence of any significant racial or ethnic differences in students' desire to get good grades," says Ronald F. Ferguson, a Harvard University public policy lecturer who analyzed the survey results.

The survey, taken during the 2000-- 2001 school year, included 40,000 middle- and high-school students in the 15 racially diverse and relatively affluent school districts that are part of the achievement network. Among them are Shaker Heights, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Berkeley, Calif.; Montclair, N.J.; Arlington, Va.; Evanston, Ill.; White Plains, N.Y.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Amherst, Mass.

Ferguson cautioned that because the survey was done among students in suburban districts, the finding could not be "generalized" to all students. …

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