"Acting White" and the Black-White Achievement Gap
A 1986 ethnographic study by Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu sparked controversy among education researchers by suggesting an "acting white" effect could be a source of the black-white achievement gap in U.S. public schools. The researchers suggested that black students socialize their peers into thinking that academic practices such as studying are associated with a white culture oppositional to their own. This pressure against "acting white" then inhibits school effort among black students, thereby depressing their academic performance. In response to Fordham and Ogbu's "acting white" theory, researchers have sought to verify the authors' findings with quantitative data. Most of these studies counter the "acting white" hypothesis. Conversely, a recent study by Roland Fryer and Paul Torelli finds empirical evidence supporting the theory that black students do poorly in school because of social pressures. The study, however, uses artificial measures of social standing to support its findings. Using the same nationally representative dataset as Fryer and Torelli, but improved measures of social pressures, this paper examines if and how social pressures are related to academic effort and achievement, as well as how these relationships may differ by race. Ultimately, this paper aims to clarify the degree to which social expectations influence student effort in order to identify sources of the black-white achievement gap.
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