There is no denying that the election of the first African-American president has generated great excitement in our country. The enthusiasm demonstrated at the inauguration of Barack Obama was boundless, affecting people regardless of their political affiliation. Attendees interviewed on the spot expressed a mixture of joy and hope for our country. The most moving comments for me, however, came from African-American students, mainly boys, expressing that now they had hope and a goal for the future—they too could strive to become president of the country.
The Obama Effect
Already there is a study of the “Obama effect” on African-American student achievement. It shows that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test given before Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the test was administered again after his acceptance speech and once more after the election. This simple study, performed on 18- to 63-year-old black and white test takers by Vanderbilt University management professor Ray Friedman and his fellow researchers, shows promising results. Could affecting student achievement overall be as simple as this? Could Hispanic students and girls also emulate the successes of Hilda Solis, the Hispanic nominee for secretary of labor, and the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton? Motivation and enthusiasm like this can be formulated and created by school districts. Take advantage of this historical moment to seize any and all real-life opportunities to help set high goals for all students.
Many students ready to take a stab at higher education and greater opportunities are stopping short, as many of the financial vehicles once available have become more limited. Various school districts are devising creative programs to motivate every student to think of attending college, and many states and private entities are partnering with school districts to help pick up the tab. In “The College Promise” we share some of the programs we discovered in our research.
Offering economic rewards is another method of student motivation very much in the news lately and on the opposite end of the spectrum to emulating real-life experiences. Does this type of material reward work in the long term? What happened to the love of learning for learning’s sake? We discuss this debate in “Do Economic Rewards Work?”
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Judy Faust Hartnett, Editor