Spring 2011

The Achievement Gap: Past, Present & Future

Richard E. Nisbett

The achievement gap between blacks and whites owes nothing to genetics. It is not solely due to discrimination or social-class differences between blacks and whites. It is due in good part to environmental differences between blacks and whites stemming from family, neighborhood, and school socialization factors that are present even for middle-class blacks. The gap is closing slowly, but it could be closed much more rapidly, with interventions both large and small. Preschool programs exist that can produce enormous differences in outcomes in school and in later life. Elementary schools where children spend much more time in contact with the school, and which include upper-middle-class experiences such as visits to museums and dramatic productions, have a major impact on poor black children's academic achievement. Simply convincing black children that their intellectual skills are under their control can have a marked impact.

Richard E. Nisbett, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1992, is the Theodore M. New-comb Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan. His publications include Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (2009), The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently – and Why (2003), and Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South (with Dov Cohen, 1996).

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