The 'Acting White Theory' Doesn't Add Up

Show Me the Numbers: Why the academic achievement gap is not rooted in black anti-intellectualism.

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Several factors were revealed that discouraged black students from pursuing college. More than one-third of all black students who decided not to attend college stated that they could not afford it. Ten percent of black males stated that they did not have enough information about college. Fifteen percent of black females elected not to go to college for "family reasons," compared with zero percent of black males. Black females were the most likely to report being stressed about college when compared with other race groups.

What Black Kids Need to Be Successful


The CBS News poll asked students, "In your school, which ONE of the following would do the most to help make your education better: 1) Smaller classes, 2) a safer school, 3) more individual attention from teachers, 4) courses that prepare you for the real world, 5) more help getting into college?" For black students, No. 1 was "courses that prepare you for the real world," and No. 2 was "more individual attention from teachers."


The CBS News poll asked students, "Overall, how would you rate the quality of your school's teachers? Would you say they are excellent teachers, good, fair or poor teachers?" Not surprisingly, our analysis found that black students who rated their teachers as "excellent" were also more likely to report good grades in school. This finding corresponds with results in Breaking Barriers (pdf), whereby high-achieving black students reported that their teachers were interested in them "as a person," treated them fairly, encouraged them to express their views and gave extra help when needed. Teachers who were effective also routinely let their students know when they did a good job.


The CBS News poll found equally low ratings of "a safer school" for black and white students. However, analysis in the Breaking Barriers reports found that black students were significantly less prone to feel safe at school when compared with white students. An analysis found a relationship between feeling safe at school and academic achievement for all students, regardless of race.

Neighborhood safety also significantly influenced academic success. When responding to the prompt, "Generally speaking, I feel safe in the area where I live," black students who were reported high achievers were more likely to respond, "Always." However, generally black students across levels of academic achievement felt less safe than white students.