Racial-ethnic pride and academic achievement linked

October 17, 2003

University Park, Pa. -- African American fourth graders with higher levels of racial-ethnic pride were found in a recent study also to have higher academic achievement as measured by reading and math grades in school and standardized tests, says the Penn State researcher who led the study.

Emilie Phillips Smith, associate professor of human development and family studies, says, "Parental racial-ethnic pride was also related to children's achievement in the study. In addition, children whose teachers exhibited higher levels of racial-ethnic trust and perceived fewer barriers due to race and ethnicity showed more trust and optimism. Children living in communities with higher proportions of college-educated residents also exhibited more positive racial-ethnic attitudes.

"The study contradicts the notion that 'racelessness' in school children is necessary for success," she adds. "We found that family, school and community are all important factors related to children's healthy racial-ethnic attitudes and that these attitudes are correlated with their academic achievement."

The study was conducted while Smith, who joined the Penn State faculty in September, was a faculty member at the University of South Carolina. The results are detailed in a paper, "Family, School and Community Factors and Their Relationships to Racial-Ethnic Attitudes and Academic Achievement," in the current issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology. Smith's co-authors are her former doctoral students at South Carolina, Jacqueline Atkins and Christian M. Connell.

The study was conducted with 98 African American child and parent pairs in South Carolina. Sixty-seven percent of the families earned less than $20,000 annually. All of the children were in the fourth grade.

Information about the participants' attitudes about racial-ethnic pride, barriers and trust/distrust was gathered through interviews and questionnaires. The children were interviewed at school. Parents were interviewed at home and the children's teachers received a copy of the survey from their school, which they completed and returned via interschool mail.

For example, to assess racial-ethnic pride, the participants were asked how strongly they agreed with the statements: People should be proud of their color. I feel good about my culture and heritage. The following statement, along with others, was used to assess perception of barriers: Even with education my color affects me. No matter how hard I try, my color affects me. A sample trust/distrust statement is: You have to be careful around different colors. I trust people of different colors.

Smith notes, "This study has provided evidence that multiple important sources are related to the development of children's racial-ethnic attitudes and their academic achievement. It provides initial evidence that more consideration should be given to the role of the school setting and, specifically, teachers in children's racial-ethnic identity. The results also support the value of exposure to models of educational success in the children's communities."

The study was supported by a grant from the Institute for Families in Society.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009