By: Richard Nisbett
Thursday, May 14, 2009
As Department of Education officials consider how best to spend billions from the economic stimulus plan, they would be wise to pay attention to which programs actually help children's achievement - and keep in mind that sometimes very small influences in children's lives can have very big effects.
Consider, for example, what the social psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson have described as "stereotype threat," which hampers the performance of African-American students. Simply reminding blacks of their race before they take an exam leads them to perform worse, their research shows.
Fortunately, stereotype threat for blacks and other minorities can be reduced in many ways. Just telling students that their intelligence is under their own control improves their effort on school work and performance. In two separate studies, Mr. Aronson and others taught black and Hispanic junior high school students how the brain works, explaining that the students possessed the ability, if they worked hard, to make themselves smarter. This erased up to half of the difference between minority and white achievement levels.
For the entire article, see the The New York Times website at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/opinion/08nisbett.html?scp=1&sq=nisbett&st=cse.