Can Obama's Triumphs Help Cut the Achievement Gap?
One of the pieces in the NY Times "Year in Ideas" considers the so-called "Obama effect"-whether the President's defying of racial conventions may actually remove mental roadblocks that plague other African-Americans.Previous studies have shown that by priming black students with racial judgments could affect their performance on academic tests. The same sort of "stereotype threats" affect women, as well.A team of researchers led by David Marx, a San Diego State University psychologist, provided evidence for an Obama effect by administering verbal exams to black and white students at four times during the 2008 presidential campaign. Rising above racial stereotypes in academic performance, the black students showed a marked uptick in their scores right after Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (if the students had watched it) and after his election.Interestingly a similar study, which prompted students to merely think about Obama and his achievements, found no role model-effect. The discrepancy could point to a temporal issue: that the afterglow of an Obama triumph is inspirational, whereas simply recalling an event won't do the trick.Maybe a better idea for cutting the achievement gap than hoping that every day is a good one for the 44th POTUS would be to try to eliminate the stereotype threat in the first place.