Research Shows Boosting Black Students’ Self-Esteem Improves Academic Performance

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education inequality

New psychological research shows that helping Black students improve their self-esteem also boosts their academic performance.

The Huffington Post reported on research conducted by Stanford University psychological scientist Joseph Powers. Powers found that simply knowing that other people harbor negative stereotypes about you can affect a students’ academic performance. This term is known as “stereotype threat.”

According to Huffington Post, research showed students can counter this by reflecting on their strengths. Stanford researchers surveyed 550 seventh-graders. Students were asked to write 15-minute assignments reflecting on their strengths. Forty percent of the students were Black, 40 percent were white, and 20 percent were from other ethnic groups.

Powers said that concentrating on their strengths can help improve students’ academic performance.

“This kind of personal reflection can broaden and protect a person’s identity during difficult transitions, such as the start of seventh grade,” Powers said. “Affirming core values has been shown to protect students from some of the negative effects of stereotype threat and improve students’ sense of social belonging and academic performance.”

The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that the whole class benefited from being alongside Black students who had a positive view of themselves. Low performing students’ academic performance improved from a C to a C+.

“We were surprised that the effect of sharing a classroom with more affirmed students was almost as large as the effect of receiving a values affirmation,” Powers said. “Who would have thought that the indirect benefits of an intervention could be almost as large than the direct benefits?”

The research is useful information for educators, who are mostly white, and Black parents. An increasing number of Black parents are pulling their children out of public schools and educating them at home. One of the reasons is many Black parents suspect white educators don’t expect their children to do well academically and don’t motivate them. At home their children are challenged to excel academically.

However, African students and the children of immigrants perform well academically in public schools. Some Black education experts have attributed this to the fact that white educators expect more from them than American-born Black students.

A prime example of this is Jeremy Spencer, a Georgia Department of Education official who was recently fired for making racist comments on social media. Spencer implied that Black students were responsible for poor test scores among American students.

Spencer wrote, “If I read one more thing about the Finland education system….not everybody in the US public schools are WHITE.”

Spencer’s views show some white educators have low expectations of Black students.

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