Journal of Educational Controversy

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Obama Effect?

At the Journal, we have long been concerned with the effects of race and poverty on NCLB test scores. Our current issue addresses this theme in depth, while Jonathon Kozol, subject of our second issue, has famously criticized NCLB and its relation to economically and racially disadvantaged areas--and criticized leadership that ignores those findings. See his book The Shame of the Nation (267)

Famous Harvard and Princeton studies on race and performance backed up Kozol's criticism with an even more surprising finding that “it is the targets of a stereotype whose behavior is most powerfully affected by it. A stereotype that pervades the culture, like "ditzy blondes" and "forgetful seniors" can make people painfully aware of how society views them--so painfully aware, in fact, that knowledge of the stereotype can affect how well they do on intellectual and other tasks.”

The effects of these findings, when regarding African-Americans, may see a drastic change from President Obama’s election.

In this article, researchers at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management administered a standardized test to a mixed group of blacks and whites four times during the process of Obama’s run. The further the president got, the better the minority subjects of the study did. They were told that the exam was “created by the Massachusetts Aptitude Assessment Center, and is used as a diagnostic tool to assess verbal problem-solving ability”—a ruse meant to activate the stereotype that blacks don’t do as well as whites on aptitude tests.

After Obama’s election, among students who watched the speech, the achievement gap was roughly equal.

The possible consequences of this study, though it will require follow-up studies to confirm the hypothesis, are incredible. Obama’s example as a black man in power might serve as a psychological reinforcement to the black children of America who disproportionately attend underfunded, poverty-ridden schools that underperform on standardized tests. A picture of a black President might be worth a thousand motivational words. In the spirit of the Obama campaign, we will hope.

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