Math Achievement in African-American Boys Versus Their White Counterparts Term Paper

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math achievement African-American vs. white American



The objective of this work is to focus on mathematical achievement in African-American boys vs. their white counterparts. Addressed will be risk factors such as family income, mother's education, single-parent households, primary language non-English, etc. The theoretical framework will focus on the work of Vygotsky and one other theorist as to how they would tie into the main topic.Download full
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Math Achievement in African-American Boys Versus Their White Counterparts Assignment

The disparities in the educational attainment of African-American and white American males is clearly noted in previous research study however, the precise factors or elements that cause African-American males to underachieve in mathematics is not known. The work of Moody states that three theoretical proposals exist that attempt to provide an explanation to: '...the disparities between mathematics achievement of African-American and White students..." which are approached in relation to the contexts of explanations on the basis of the "...biological, psychological, and sociological contexts (Jacob & Jordan, 1993; as cited by Moody, 1997). Three of the most prominent theories that have emerged over the past 30 years to explain the underachievement or under-participation of African-Americans are: (1) the IQ deficit theory; (2) the Cultural Deficit theory; and (3) the Critical theory (Jacob & Jordan, 1993; as cited by Moody, 1997) the theory of the IQ Deficit states: "...disparities in achievement are results of genetic differences." (Moody, 1997) the cultural deficit theory has as its' focus the "culture of poverty" which is viewed as a culture that is deficit in the provision of the "experiences, attitudes, and values needed to succeed in school." (Moody, 1997; paraphrased) the 'Cultural Deficit' theoretical framework is based on the argument that "poor African-Americans are deficient in child-rearing practices and communication styles that foster academic achievement." (Jacob & Jordan; 1993; as cited by Moody, 1997) the 'Cultural Deficit' theory also links schools and schooling practicing as agents that work together in maintaining "the existing oppressive social structure" (Moody, 1997).

Limitations of the IQ Deficit theory are stated to be "...discredited because heritability (the concept used as the basis for this theory) "does not take into account the fact that genes can influence test scores indirectly by interacting with the environment in which an individual develops" (Jacob & Jordan, 1993, p. 4). (Moody, 1997) Limitations of the cultural deficit theory states that in this case the "concept of the culture is applied inappropriately by approaching lower-class groups from an ethnocentric, middle-class point-of-view (Jacob & Jordan, 1993; as cited by Moody, 1997) and that "little attempt is made to understand lower-class groups' behaviors from their own perspectives, and the heterogeneity of ethnicity, language and culture that exists among people with low incomes is ignored." (Ibid; as cited by Moody, 1997)

It is held by one researcher that the emphasis should not be on 'deficits' because this could lead to assumptions that: "If African-Americans do badly in school, we must discover what is wrong with them? (Boykin, 1986; as cited by Moody, 1997) the study conducted by Ginsburg and Russell reportedly had 'no more difficulty with mathematical reasoning than any other group." (Moody, 1997) However, findings of Ginsburg in 1972 and 1984 studies states that the "academic performance of [African-American] children is affected by social, political, and motivational factors. Moreover, the academic performance of [African-American] children has little to do with their race or genes; it is a consequence of the structure of society as a whole" (Niesser, 1986, p.4) as cited by Moody (1997) This work looks past the most often researched causal factors,


This research is conducted on the basis of the theoretical framework of Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and John Dewey. Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist (1896-1934) held that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition of an individual and quite the opposite form Piaget's belief that learning follows the development of a child it was held by Vygotsky that social development comes prior to learning. Vygotsky stated: "Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice, first on the social level, and later on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological)." (Mace, 2005)

The Social Development theory of Vygotsky "rests on two main principles: (1) the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO); and (2) the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) the 'MKO' is in reference to anyone whose learning is at a higher ability or who understands better than the learner "with respect to a particular task, process or concept. This MKO is generally the teacher, parent, older sibling, other more knowledgeable person and even a computer. The "Zone of Proximal Development" is the place where a student can perform a task under adult guidance or with peer collaboration that could not be achieved alone." (Mace, 2005) the claim of Vygotsky was that learning occurred in this zone. The classroom environment based on the theory of Vygotsky would be one that had the student's desk arranged in clustered, with peer instruction, collaboration and small group instruction being the methods used to teach." (Mace, 2005) Vygotsky provided effective strategies for guiding the practice of instruction which are those of: (1) Scaffolding; (2) Reciprocal teaching; and (3) Guided instruction." (Mace, 2005) Reciprocal teaching is defined as a strategy for instruction whereby students take a turn playing the role of the teacher either in small groups or pairs. Guided instruction is characterized by the teacher and students work together exploring problems in mathematics and then share different problem-solving strategies in an open dialogue. Scaffolding is a support structure that is created or placed temporarily by the teacher for the purpose of assisting the student to complete a task that that could not complete on their own.

The ideas of Vygotsky influenced the social constructivist approach to education. Vygotsky believed that the culture of the individual or the inheritance of that culture is "carried in the meanings of artifacts and practices. The knowledge that the learner brings to the learning experience are dependent upon the culture of the individual as well as the stage of development of that individual. Vygotsky stated that: "Thought and language, which reflect reality in a way different from that of perception, are the key to the nature of human consciousness. Words play a central part not only in the development of thought but in the historical growth of human consciousness as a whole. A word is a microcosm of human consciousness." (Goldfarb, 2000) Vygotsky made a differentiation between higher and lower mental functions in that the lower mental functions are those which are inherited through genetics which is the natural mental ability of the human being while the higher mental functions are developed through interaction on a social level.

The theory of Bruner was that learning is a social process in which the students construct new concepts or ideas based on the knowledge that they currently possess. Bruner held that: (1) Instruction must commensurate with the experience that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness); (2) Instruction must be structured so that it can easily be understood by the student (spiral organization); and (3) Instruction should be designed to facilitate extrapolation (going beyond the information given) the constructivist view and the objectivist view are quite different from one another as shown by the following chart:

Objectivist View vs. Constructivist View

Objectivist View

Knowledge exists outside of individuals and can be transferred from teachers to students.

Students learn what they hear and what they read. If a teacher explains abstract concepts well, students will learn those concepts.

Learning is successful when students can repeat what was taught.

Constructivist View

Knowledge has personal meaning. It is created by individual students.

Learners construct their own knowledge by looking for meaning and order; they interpret what they hear, read, and see based on their previous learning and habits. Students who do not have appropriate backgrounds will be unable to accurately "hear" or "see" what is before them.

Learning is successful when students can demonstrate conceptual understanding

Source: Thanasoulas (nd)

John Dewey held that:."..knowledge emerges only from situations in which learners have to draw them out of meaningful experiences Further, these situations have to be embedded in a social context, such as a classroom, where students can take part in manipulating materials and, thus, forming a community of learners who construct their knowledge together. Students cannot learn by means of rote memorization; they can only learn by "directed living," whereby concrete activities are combined with theory. The obvious implication of Dewey's theory is that students must be engaged in meaningful activities that induce them to apply the concepts they are trying to learn." (Thanasoulas, nd)


This review of literature is limited in the follow ways: (1) Limited by the length of document for review of the literature related to this subject matter; and (2) Limited in that a qualitative review necessitates a vast review of literature for which timeframe did not allow.


In a National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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