The effects of racial dissonance on the academic achievement and self-esteem of Hispanic middle school students
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The goal of this study was to assess the relevance of Rosenberg’s theory of racial dissonance with Hispanic middle school students. Dissonance theory proposes that the racial composition of schools can negatively impact the academic performance and self-esteem of ethnic minority students (Rosenberg, 1975). The sample included 1037 Hispanic and 683 non-Hispanic White middle school students, ages 10-15, from four middle schools in an urban Southwestern area. Of the four middle schools, one was classified as racially dissonant for Hispanics (a non-Hispanic White majority school), two were racially balanced (with differing racial mixes) and one was racially consonant for Hispanics (a majority Hispanic school). The White students were included in the study to control for differences across the schools that were not related to racial dissonance. The academic achievement, self-esteem and perceived discrimination of Hispanic students and non-Hispanic White students were contrasted between the four middle schools. Socioeconomic status, as measured by parental education, was controlled for all data analyses. Results indicated that Rosenberg’s dissonance theory was not supported with regard to academic performance and self-esteem. Both Hispanic and non-Hispanic White students in the predominantly non-Hispanic White school reported that they received higher grades, spent more time on homework, and were absent fewer days than the students at the other three middle schools. There were no school, ethnic or grade level differences in self-esteem. The results did support Rosenberg’s notion of a dissonant communications environment (1977, 1979). Regardless of ethnicity, majority status in a school context was associated with lowered levels of perceived discrimination. In general this study did not provide support for Rosenberg’s theory of racial dissonance, but the findings do support the notion that the phenomenon of resegregation contributes to the persistence of inequality of education for Hispanic students (Bankston & Caldas, 1997; Orfield, 2001; Orfield & Yun, 1999). The findings also highlight the importance of controlling for socioeconomic factors when examining the academic performance and self-esteem of Hispanic students. Future research of school racial composition should examine family factors, teacher experience, busing patterns, and grade level with ethnically and socioeconomically diverse samples.