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Race and Achievement

October 4, 2006

A simple self-esteem-building exercise could help close the stubborn “achievement gap” between African Americans and whites.


Closing the racial achievement gap. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

African American students lag far behind whites in academic performance, and few measures have helped. Yet remarkably, a recent experiment closed that gap by 40 percent over just one semester – with a single, fifteen-minute writing exercise. University of Colorado psychologist Geoffrey Cohen says they had seventh-graders start the year by writing about their values.

GEOFFREY COHEN (University of Colorado):
And this exercise gives a person a chance to say: "This is what I believe in, this is what makes me a good person, it gives me self-integrity." And this kind of exercise has been shown to take the sting out of potential failure.

That added confidence was enough to improve black students’ grades, while the white students’ grades stayed the same. Cohen says the difference may stem from the negative stereotypes black students face every day. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.