22 November 2005

The Acting White Effect

What does a good study design and a 90,000 student sample size tell you about popularity v. grades among students in grades seven to twelve?

Fryer showed that "acting white" seems to be a real problem, but not one affecting all minority students. Good students at private schools aren't any less popular than minority students with lower grades. Nor do students at predominantly black public schools pay a social price for higher grades. That result, Fryer says, shows there isn't a pervasive bias among blacks against achievement, or an "oppositional culture" created in response to white racism.

But at integrated public schools, minority students face a special problem, according to Fryer's study. Unlike their white classmates, whose popularity steadily increases as their grades go up, minority students with higher grades end up with fewer friends.

For blacks, this effect is noticeable among B-plus and A students.

For Hispanic students, the drop in popularity is even more pronounced, affecting students who average at least C-plus grades
. . . .

As a result, Fryer says, minority students face a cruel choice at precisely the kinds of suburban schools that are supposed to be eliminating their disadvantages. "When blacks are forced to pay a social price for getting good grades," he said, "there are going to be some black students who won't achieve their full potential."

Culture matters, often a lot. But, the data above don't point to any easy solutions. They also don't answer another key question, which is whether public schools that try to act like private schools, the Denver School of the Arts, or charter schools, for example, see less, more or about the same amount of "Acting White Effect" as other public schools, a fine distinction, but one that turns out to be quite important from a policy making perspective.

No comments: