Racism and The Achievement Gap

This summer, the entire Bluffton University faculty is reading a Ken Bain book as a focus for meetings about improving our teaching, and it has some sections that are relevant to the Bluffton civic engagement theme I mentioned in my previous post.  There is an achievement gap between African American, Hispanic, and Native American students and the rest.  Even at elite colleges where all the students have similar credentials as measured by their SAT scores, high school grades and other accomplishments, these minority groups do significantly worse than the other students in particular courses.  Ken Bain cites research that suggests that the reason is that these minorities have internalized racism.  In his terminology, they suffer from stereotype vulnerability.  If they are judged by others as being members of a poorly performing group, and they are worried about that stereotype, then they will actually perform worse partly due to a kind of performance anxiety.

It turns out that it is easy to make white students’ work suffer from stereotype vulnerability.  All it takes are some offhand comments about how whites generally perform worse than Asian students on an exam and they internalize the idea and perform worse (p. 71).  To the extent that stereotypes are holding back minority groups, then race-based affirmative action only reinforce stereotypes that should be fading away.  For example, according to Ken Bain, giving these students a remedial program only makes matters worse (p. 81).

Now, this is perhaps only valid at the elite schools that Ken Bain was discussing, and remedial work really is valuable for students who really do need remedial work, but race-based affirmative action doesn’t help them much anyway compared with class-based affirmative action which raises graduation rates more than race-based (as I posted earlier).  Perhaps class-based affirmative action raises graduation rates partly because it reduces racial stereotypes and therefore reduces stereotype vulnerability.  Class is easier to hide than race and so there is likely to be less stereotype vulnerability.  I am speculating here and I would love to see more evidence on why graduation rates improve with class-based affirmative action.  Any ideas?

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Posted in Discrimination, Labor

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