The majority of Americans want to believe that differences of color or ethnic origin are largely superficial and should be ignored or minimized. In general, Americans hope to remedy racial inequality by disregarding group difference. But this principle of color-blindness may also blind American institutions to real differences in the lived experience of minority groups, differences that cannot be ignored and should not be minimized. Reflecting on a history of exclusion, minorities may be skeptical about the promise of fair treatment and ambivalent about full assimilation to a mainstream culture that does not belong to them.
These conclusions stem from a long-running program of social psychological research undertaken by Hazel Markus, Claude Steele, and Dorothy Steele of Stanford University. With Foundation support, these researchers, in partnership with Michael Kass of the Teacher Quality Collaboratory, have turned to the question of how American institutions, particularly educational institutions, deal with racial and ethnic difference. What principles do they apply when trying to create an inclusive community that spans racial and ethnic divisions? And which of these "models of inclusion" do minorities themselves prefer and prosper under?
The researchers will undertake a two year study comparing the models of inclusion that prevail within six Californian elementary schools: three that are successful in fostering minority academic achievement and three that are not. The schools will be recruited in collaboration with the Bay Area Teacher Quality Collaboratory, an alliance of K-12 teachers and educational professionals dedicated to improving education for minority students. The researchers will employ a combination of methods-- observing classrooms directly; surveying teachers, and interviewing parents-- to explore how the different schools attempt to build an inclusive atmosphere for all their students. Do minority students perform best in a school that celebrates difference explicitly or one that is scrupulously blind to differences of color? The researchers hypothesize that successful schools follow a third model, which prizes the contributions of all groups while applying high and equal standards to all.