Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How Racism Contributes to the Achievement Gap - The Atlantic

How Racism Contributes to the Achievement Gap - The Atlantic:

How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning

A new study shows that the pressures associated with discrimination contribute to the achievement gap.

The stress of discrimination can affect the achievement of students of color.


For 15-year-old Zion Agostini, the start of each school day is a new occasion to navigate a minefield of racial profiling. From an early age, walking home from elementary school with his older brother, Agostini took note of the differential treatment police gave to black people in his community: “I [saw] people get stopped … get harassed … get arrested for minor offenses.” Almost a decade later, Agostini said he now faces the same treatment as a sophomore at Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. “Me being a black male, I'm more likely to be stopped and frisked by a cop. Then, [I’m] going to school with more cops … [messing] with me at 7 in the morning.”

The strain of these interactions is heightened by the daily routine of passing through a metal detector, emptying pockets, and removing clothing that frequently makes him late to his first-period class. “The fact is now I’m [tardy] because I’m being scanned four times because of the metal in my necklace or my keys. I missed whatever [the teacher] was explaining … a lot goes on in [chemistry], and because of that I'm behind.” All of this combined takes a toll on his schoolwork, he said. “It does make it extremely hard to focus on the classwork … You're upset, or sad, or just emotional about what just happened. It takes a while to settle.”
recent study from Northwestern University corroborates Agostini’s experience, suggesting that the stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts. The team of researchers found that the physiological response to race-based stressors—be it perceived racial prejudice, or the drive to outperform negative stereotypes—leads the body to pump out more stress hormones in adolescents from traditionally marginalized groups. This biological reaction to race-based stress is compounded by the psychological response to discrimination or the coping mechanisms youngsters develop to lessen the distress. What emerges is a picture of black and Latino students whose concentration, motivation, and, ultimately, learning is impaired by unintended and overt racism.

Emma Adam, a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern and the study’s senior author, said prior research had established racial differences in levels of cortisol—a hormone that increases when the body is stressed—between black and white youth, and linked this to the impact of discrimination. In the current research review, she and her co-authors set out to connect the dots. “We had observed these [dissimilarities] and knew that sleep and stress hormones have strong implications for cognition … we also knew that there was a strong racial gap in academic attainment.”
Two sources of stress encountered by black and Latino students and examined in the report are perceived discrimination—the perception that you will be treated differently or unfairly because of your race—and stereotype threat, the stress of confirming negative expectations about your racial or ethnic group. According to the paper, among this population of students, perceived discrimination from teachers was “related to lower grades, less academic motivation … and less How Racism Contributes to the Achievement Gap - The Atlantic:

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