Study Finds That Black Youngsters Perform Better Academically in Different Types of Learning Environments Than Do Whites

A recent study published in the journal Cognition and Instruction finds that black students in fourth and fifth grade perform better academically in certain types of learning environments. The authors of the study are A. Wade Boykin, a professor of psychology at Howard University, Brenda A. Allen, recently named provost and professor of psychology at Winston-Salem State University, and Eric A. Hurley, an assistant professor of psychology and black studies at Pomona College.

Researchers divided a large group of fourth- and fifth-graders at an urban school in the Northeast and placed them in three different learning environments. One group was placed in a communal learning environment where they were urged to work together to solve problems. A second group was told they would earn an award if the combined performance of the group exceeded expectations. The third group was told that those individuals who performed the best would be rewarded.

The results showed that black students performed best in the communal group. The black students did the worst in the third group that emphasized individual achievement. White students, on the other hand, performed the best in the group that emphasized individual competition and did the worst in the communal group.

Professor Boykin believes that black students perform better in the communal group setting because of the tendency in the black community to have large extended families and more involvement in community-based institutions which make them more comfortable in a group learning environment.

The study raises the question of whether the racial gap in standardized test scores and other measures of academic measure can be narrowed by changing the way black children are taught in the public schools.