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What If Coleman Had Known About Stereotype Threat? How Social-Psychological Theory Can Help Mitigate Educational Inequality

Abstract

The Coleman Report has inspired various lines of inquiry offering new understandings of inequality of educational opportunity and the persistent achievement gaps in American schools. Of the various models and theories, stereotype threat, which focuses on social-psychological dimensions of inequality, has received considerable attention over the past twenty years. But what if stereotype threat theory, and associated interventions to combat it, had existed fifty years ago? Using data from the original Equality of Educational Opportunity Study, we find, consistent with the stereotype threat literature, that African American students confronted with more threatening educational contexts are burdened by a less favorable self-image; this finding partially explains how students internalization of racial stereotypes depresses their test scores. Based on these findings and on results from numerous laboratory and field experiments documenting the impact of stereotype threat and how to mitigate it, we explore its usefulness for studying educational inequality in the years to come.

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