Friday, October 30, 2009

Required Reading: Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap

There's research on a 15 minute intervention that reduces the racial achievement gap. Seriously. 

Helps African American students but doesn't hurt European American students. Lower achieving students get more of a boost than higher achieving students.

Works across content areas. The research is an experimental study, so it is causation not just correlation. From a short activity that fits into the first week of school mayhem.

And I hadn't heard of it until I read it for class this week.

Frequently, class discussions ask what's being done to implement the research we read. This week we asked why this article, which sounds like it should have gotten full-on media buzz, was new to everyone. (Including the Journalism professor.)

The original article was published in Science in 2006. A two-year follow up was published this April. (My professor says Science has a 98% rejection rate for social science articles. Multiple review levels. You don't get in without really good material.)

The intervention is simple. Give students a list of values and have them write about their two or three most important values.

That's it.

The theory is that this intervention breaks a negative cycle. That some students feel like school doesn't care about me so I'll perform poorly making school cares less about me and I'll do worse...

Breaking that cycle can actually begin an opposite cycle. "Oh, maybe they do care. I can do better. They like me more, I'll do even better..."

I am oversimplifying. And the news article I found does caution, "This is not a silver bullet. The improvements came from the psychological interventions paired with good resources and good teachers."

But still, 15 minutes of class time. Less than the interruption that my old school is having for today's Halloween festivities. Potential for real change. (Low achieving African Americans had  raised their GPA, on average, .41 points over two years where they repeated this activity a few times.)  Why wasn't I doing this?

Why aren't you?


  1. This has been the first thing my students do on the first day of class for the last couple years. Don't know if it makes a difference or not but like you said, it's easy and can't hurt. I spend most of my time though on the Growth Mindset ideas from Dweck.

    I think there's a very strong and clear connection there.

  2. Unfortunately that Science article requires a subscription, or some sort of payment. Do you have the list of values they used? Or your own list? How do you do this?

  3. JYBSorry for not responding earlier. Apparently it got lost in my inbox.

    TFA pushed Malleable Intelligence on us pretty strongly, so I guess I've been less surprised to hear about the positive effects there.

    One other social-psychological technique is to assure students that everyone has a hard time adjusting to new situations, but after an initial rough patch but then bounce back. (I think this is mostly done during transition years, first year of middle school, high school, etc.)

    SueThis is why I like open-access and, until we figure out how to afford that, having university subscriptions and interlibrary loans.

    But to answer your question...

    The authors listed three values in the article:
    relations with family
    relations with friends
    being good at art

    I haven't e-mailed them to find out more yet (though may try in the morning).

    Other similar values that I'd expect:
    being good at sports
    being good in academics/English/Math/Science/...
    relations with God (or however you want to phrase sacred)

    And a few more that wouldn't surprise me:
    being optimistic
    being adventurous
    being creative
    helping others
    being wealthy
    being a hard worker
    being respected
    being honest
    being independent
    having privacy

    Writing my own list down, I realize how influenced it is by what I value or what I want my students to value. I did search for "values" and find a couple of lists for inspiration, but they're aimed at older audiences.

    Once students were given the list of values, they were asked to indicate 2 or 3 of their most important values. Then they wrote about why those values were important to them.

    Hope this helps. I'll let you know if I hear more.

  4. @Sue

    You can download the supplemental materials at the science link. And yes, open access would be good. Here's what they listed:

    athletic ability, being good at art, being smart or getting good grades, creativity, independence,
    living in the moment, membership in a social group (such as your community, racial group, or
    school club), music, politics, relationships with friends or family, religious values, and sense of

    Sorry if the formatting comes out wonky. I just copy and pasted.

    @Sarah - I emailed them when the original article came out but got no response. I've had good email conversations though with Joshua Aronson at NYU if you want more info on stereotype threat.

  5. Thanks JYB!

    I finally noticed the online supplement two days ago. I've got a mock-up of their assignment that I'll figure out how to share once I'm through with finals.

    Bummer that you didn't get a response from them. Thanks for the heads up on Aronson being a good correspondent. I feel like I'm just getting my feet wet and figuring out what my questions are and where they fit in.

  6. I'd heard about this before, but calling it out again is a good thing. The one question I have is whether the student writing was collected and read by the teachers. My instincts tell me that students knowing their writing would be read might make a big difference in the effectiveness of the exercise.