Reading, Writing, and Self-Esteem

Simple exercises could close the achievement gap

| January-February 2012

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    Jon Han /

  • reading-writing-and-self-esteem-sm.jpg

By almost every measure, Cupertino High School in northern California is a successful place. Perched in the heart of Silicon Valley, Cupertino sent 85 percent of its senior class to college in 2009, and hundreds of its students take advanced placement classes each year.

But some of Cupertino’s kids are doing better than others. On average, students there excel on California’s Academic Performance Index. The target is 800; Cupertino students scored 893. Latino students, however, who make up 10 percent of the school’s population, scored 780, just under the statewide goal.

Nationwide, the numbers are even more striking: 94 percent of white young adults have earned a high school degree by age 24, compared to only 87 percent of blacks and 78 percent of Latinos. A 2009 U.S. Department of Education review found that black fourth- and eighth-graders scored lower than their white counterparts on math and reading in every state for which data were available. Some of the differences can be explained by socioeconomic factors, faulty teaching, or broken school systems, but not all of them.

Recently, a group of social and cognitive psychologists have hypothesized that at least some academic disparities spring from toxic stereotypes that cause ethnic-minority and other students to question whether they belong in school and can do well there. While such a major problem might seem to require widespread social change, the psychologists are finding that quick classroom exercises that bolster students’ resistance to stereotypes can make a surprisingly large difference.

They’ve gotten dramatic results: In one of the best-known studies, low-performing black middle school students who completed several 15-minute classroom writing exercises raised their GPAs by nearly half a point over two years, compared with a control group.

A growing body of evidence also shows that the interventions can work, not only among black middle school students, but also for women, minority college students, and other populations.

Lisa Jorgensen
1/21/2012 3:32:35 PM

This series of exercises seems excellent. 15 minutes makes a good journal entry. Self-examination of the "value" of values (and work habits) would help ANYONE become more effective! The administrations and facillitating "teachers" often forget that the purpose of education is to make good citizens! In America, that covers a lot of ground, but doesn't necessarily include "ace ing" a multiple-choice test! I would also recommend checking out the articles available in the website (the Southern Poverty Law Center) and (those wonderful billboards that seem to be sprouting everywhere here in my large Southern city.

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