Understanding the Complexities of Racial-Ethnic Attitudes and Academic Achievement

In a study conducted by Smith et al. (2003), the intricate relationship between family, school, community factors, racial-ethnic attitudes, and academic achievement is explored. The authors delve into the existing literature, which suggests that positive racial-ethnic identity among young people is associated with better behavioral and academic outcomes. However, they also highlight an intriguing counterpoint, proposing that strong racial-ethnic identity may clash with the individualistic ethos of American education and success. This blog post aims to summarize the study’s key findings and discuss the importance of delving deeper into the underlying factors that shape these relationships.

The Study’s Findings

Smith et al. found that parental education and the level of racial-ethnic pride were positively correlated and both significantly influenced children’s academic achievement. Moreover, the study revealed that children exhibited higher levels of trust and optimism when their teachers displayed greater racial-ethnic trust and when perceived racial barriers were reduced. Additionally, children residing in communities with a higher proportion of college-educated residents showed more positive racial-ethnic attitudes. Notably, higher levels of racial-ethnic pride were linked to improved grades and test scores, while racial mistrust and the belief in racial obstacles were associated with poorer performance.

The Need for Deeper Understanding

While Smith et al.’s study provided valuable insights into the relationship between family, school, community, racial-ethnic attitudes, and academic achievement, it also underscores the necessity of exploring the underlying reasons behind these connections. One example mentioned is the higher racial-ethnic pride observed in communities with more college-educated residents. To comprehensively understand this relationship, conducting focus groups or individual qualitative interviews becomes crucial, allowing participants to share their perspectives on the factors that may contribute to this association.

Ream and Rumberger’s Study

In a related study, Ream and Rumberger (2008) examined the complex interplay between behavioral, social aspects of education, and school completion or dropout rates among Mexican American and non-Latino white teenagers. They utilized a national longitudinal database to support their findings, asserting that students involved in school tend to form friendships with peers who prioritize education, while academically disengaged students often develop relationships with peers outside of educational settings. The authors noted that Mexican American students appeared to participate in fewer formally sponsored extracurricular activities and unorganized academic pursuits than their white counterparts.

The Need for In-depth Analysis

While Ream and Rumberger’s study sheds light on important disparities in academic outcomes between Mexican American and non-Latino white students, it falls short in providing a deeper understanding of the factors influencing educational outcomes among Mexican American students. The study neglects to consider potential benefits of street-oriented friendships, which could play a crucial role in shaping educational experiences. To bridge these gaps, future research should consider a more comprehensive examination of the influences impacting academic outcomes, particularly by seeking the perspectives and experiences of participants from marginalized communities.

Embracing Participant Perspectives

In conclusion, both studies highlighted significant issues related to racial-ethnic attitudes and academic achievement. However, to gain a more nuanced understanding of the complexities involved, researchers must take further steps to explore the underlying factors that shape these relationships. Particularly when studying marginalized communities that face stereotypes and biases, it is essential to provide participants with opportunities to share their perspectives and ideas. By doing so, researchers can move closer to achieving unbiased and comprehensive insights that pave the way for more effective educational interventions and support systems.


Smith, R. A., Daniel, K., & Sanders, T. (2003). Racial-ethnic attitudes and academic achievement: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(3), 453-487.

Ream, R. K., & Rumberger, R. W. (2008). Student engagement, peer social capital, and school dropout among Mexican American and non-Latino white students. Sociology of Education, 81(2), 109-139.