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Despite significant gains in the rates of high school completion for African American youth during the past 30 years, there is increasing divergence in the academic outcomes of African American males and females (Belluck, 1999; U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Specifically, males are losing out to their female peers educationally. African American females are graduating from high schools at higher rates than males (56% vs. 43% by age 19) and are going on to college and graduate schools in greater numbers (16% of females vs. 12% of males) (Carter and Wilson, 1993; Hawkins, 1996; U.S. Department of Education, 1998; Wilds, 2000). A disparity in educational achievement between males and females has been a persistent trend over the last 2 decades in all racial and ethnic groups in this country. However, the difference between the percentage of African American males and females completing high school by age 19 (a difference of 13%, currently) continues to be about twice as large as that found in other racial and ethnic groups (7%, currently) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001; Wilds, 2000).
The exact reason why African American males and females are experiencing such differential educational outcomes is unclear and undoubtedly complex. Patterns of school completion among these youth as a whole, especially as they compare to White youth, have been fairly well described, but specific within group differences, between males and females, for example, are less well understood. Increasing our understanding of these differences would enable us to better meet the unique needs of each gender.
Some have suggested that school completion and academic performance is associated with how students feel about themselves. Results from some studies have suggested that there is a positive relationship between self-perceptions and academic outcomes (Oyserman et al., 1995; Oyserman and Harrison, 1998; Ward, 1990), and others have reported a negative relationship between the 2 (Fordham and Ogbu, 1988).
The purpose of this study was to explore gender differences in the relationship between self-perceptions in 4 domains (self-esteem, racial self-esteem, academic self-efficacy and importance of school completion to self) and 2 academic outcomes (intentions to complete the school year and grade point average). At the time this data was collected, the survey participants were all sophomores in high school attending a predominantly African American high school in the Midwest.
Following a review of the literature that summarizes the research related to self-perceptions and academic achievement, this paper details the study method, describes each of the variables in turn, and presents the results of the data analysis. It concludes with a discussion of the findings and suggests areas for practice interventions and future research.
Importance of Academic Achievement
The importance of educational achievement, primarily high school completion, cannot be minimized. Obviously, a high school diploma or its equivalent is the 1st requirement for entrance into higher education programs. For both males and females it is also a primary determinant of future life outcomes especially in the areas of employment and economic stability (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). A high school diploma does not guarantee a job, but increases the chances for employment. There are also data indicating that educational achievement influences social relationships. The present imbalance in educational outcomes for African American males and females is believed to be having a negative effect on their family formation processes (Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). That is, there are too few educated men to be matched with the greater number of educated women. Consequently, more women are choosing to remain single. In addition, there is a loss to the greater society of the unrealized potential and talents of these students.
Patterns of school completion are molded by the interaction of the school environment, society and individual characteristics. It is well documented that African American males and females experience the school environment very differently. Males are much more frequently behind in school for their age, typically have lower grades in reading and conduct and are more likely to have failed 1 or more grades (Alexander and Entwisle, 1988; Entwisle et al., 1997; Entwisle and Hayduk, 1982; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992). African American males are also much more likely than any other group of students (male or female in any other racial/ethnic group) to receive corporal punishment, to be suspended and to be identified as behaviorally disordered (BD) (Callahan, 1994; Gregory, 1997; McClure, 1994). Behavior-disordered students are usually separated from the general school population which leads to their social isolation and stigmatization.
These negative experiences are believed to contribute to African American males viewing school as a hostile environment and feeling increasingly frustrated in their academic efforts which often leads to academic alienation and disengagement (Midgley et al., 1996). Connell et al. (1994) found a direct relationship between students' emotional and behavioral engagement in school and their academic performance. When academic disengagement begins in elementary school, it is more difficult for these young men to be well prepared for more challenging high school curriculums putting them at risk for further failure and drop out. There is also an associated loss of confidence in one's academic ability and skills and overall sense of self-worth (Aunola et al., 2000; Connell et al., 1994; Jordan, et al., 1996).
By comparison, African American females of all ages fare better in the classroom than their male counterparts. They tend to have more positive experiences which increases their confidence in their academic skills and abilities, enhances their feelings of self-worth and reinforces the potential for rewards from the school system (Entwisle et al., 1997; Gregory, 1997). It is suggested that these more positive experiences may be related to the fact that most elementary school teachers are female. as a group, female teachers are more tolerant of and better able to handle girls' behavior (and misbehavior) in a more positive manner compared to that of boys. Gregory (1997) strongly suggests that an increase in the number of male teachers, especially at the elementary level, would help to change this pattern.
Different societal responses to African American males and females may also account for some of the differences in their level of achievement. Males are more likely to question the importance or relevance of a high school education when they observe high levels of unemployment among African American males regardless of high school attainment (Ogbu, 1990). Given this reality, it is likely that some African American males would invest less energy into their academic efforts and more energy in activities believed to be more rewarding. On the other hand, African American girls are more likely to perceive positive benefits …