Small Changes

Educators and policy makers, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have said in recent days that they hope President Obama’s example as a model student could inspire millions of American students, especially blacks, to higher academic performance.

Now researchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test administered before Mr. Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the exam was administered after his acceptance speech and again after the presidential election.

The inspiring role model that Mr. Obama projected helped blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes that had been shown, in earlier research, to lower the test-taking proficiency of African-Americans, the researchers conclude in a report summarizing their results.

SAM DILLON, Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers. January 22, 2009

I think this study might be some of the best news coming out of the new administration yet. We will have to see if the “Obama-effect” can be reproduced in other studies, of course. It almost sounds too good to be true. But it’s a part of an entire series of small, undramatic changes that might just add up to a very dramatic shift in higher education.

We could have a Secretary of Labor that thinks about working people, and a National Labor Relations Board that isn’t trying to stop graduate students from organizing. “Obama will not fix academic labor’s problems from above,” Marc Bousquet writes, “but he will ensure that labor has the chance to exercise workplace rights.”

What’s really good for education is that we have a president who looks and sounds like someone who reads and writes. The Bush debacle did all sorts of harm, but it might have does the most damage in its brash disregard for learning. Bush seemed to like epitomizing a kind of “ugly student” not like the “ugly American.” I won’t miss that frat-boy con artist.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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