Study: Blacks, Hispanics care as much about school as white, Asian students

By DENNIS CONRAD, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Black and Hispanic students surveyed in diverse, upper-income communities have as much desire to succeed in school as their white and Asian peers, says a study that challenges the idea that some minority groups are less focused on school.

Researchers for the Minority Student Achievement Network study said the findings released Tuesday show that black and Hispanic students are more likely than white students to report that their friends think it is very important to study hard and get good grades. The findings are based on a survey of 40,000 middle, junior and high school students in 15 school districts across the country, including Shaker Heights and University Heights, Ohio.

But nearly half of the black and Hispanic students surveyed said they understood their teachers' lessons about half the time or less, compared with 27 percent of white students and 32 percent of Asian students.

"As we present these data to teachers, we find that it sort of gets their attention," said Ronald Ferguson, senior research associate at Harvard's Wiener Center for Social Policy. "And I think we're better able to engage teachers and communities to say we need to do something about it."

Ferguson, who helped analyze the responses for the network, said some teachers were surprised and even questioned the accuracy of the data when told that for students within the same course level, there was virtually no difference in the amount of time that blacks, Hispanics and whites devoted to their homework. Only Asians spent significantly more time on homework.

"How well students understand what they're being taught or what they're asked to read for school depends a great deal on how they are being taught and what kinds of supports are in place to encourage learning," said Allan Alson, superintendent of Evanston Township High School District 202 in Illinois and founder of MSAN.

The survey -- the first major study by the suburban school network -- was conducted in the fall and winter of the 2000-01 school year. It also covered issues such as teacher-student relationships, students' understanding of classroom material, homework and peer pressure.

The network's districts, located in such communities as Evanston, Madison, Wis., and Cambridge, Mass., have reputations as high-achieving, high-support districts, but still report a common problem of having generally lower achievement results among black and Hispanic students. They formed their network four years ago to work to ensure high academic achievement for black and Hispanic students.

The study found that black and Hispanic students often have fewer resources at home to help them succeed in school.

For instance, 57 percent of white students and 42 percent of Asian students said they have more than one computer at home, compared with 20 percent and 27 percent, for Hispanic and black students respectively.

The study also found that, on average, black and Hispanic students in the districts were more likely to live with one or neither parent, and their parents were less likely to have college degrees than the parents of white students.

Pedro Noguera, a professor of social policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the study should help provide a better understanding of what the problems are in urban education.

"It's not in aspirations and attitudes," he said. "It's more resources, particularly parental resources."

The other districts surveyed were ones in Amherst and Cambridge, Mass.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Arlington, Va.; Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Montclair, N.J.; White Plains, N.Y.; Madison, Wis., and two each in Oak Park and Evanston, Ill.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)