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The power of Ogbu's folk theory of success in explaining persistently and disproportionately low science achievement

Memorial University of Newfoundland
Publication Date
  • Design
  • Economics
  • Education


Students in Country Cove have shown persistently disproportionate low levels of achievement when their results are compared with those of students from Earletown and the rest of Newfoundland. Research on the academic performance of minority groups in the United States has shown that certain groups have overcome socioeconomic barriers and discrimination to achieve educational success. Ogbu (1974, 1977, 1988) suggests that the minority groups that have performed poorly have not incorporated education into their "folk theory" of success. This research was designed to assess the students' "folk theory" of success and to determine the degree to which it could account for the Country Cove students' poor science achievement. -- It was hypothesized that the factors of community, school ability, the students’ "folk theory" of getting ahead, grade, and gender would have an effect on science achievement. The Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (Otis & Lennon, 1989b) was used to measure the students' school ability. A "folk theory" questionnaire was developed to assess the students’ folk theory of getting ahead. The science test developed for the Second International Science Study was used to measure the students’ science achievement. Path analysis was used to determine the effect of the factors on the students' science achievement. Quality of instruction was also investigated. -- The students in each school were receiving the same quality of instruction and community, school ability, the students' "folk theory" of getting ahead, grade and gender all affected science achievement. Students who valued science perceived that they had support from their parents and teachers, had a future-orientation, and attributed their success or failure in science to the internal causal factors of ability and effort had a "folk theory" of getting ahead that promoted science achievement. However, Ogbu's "folk theory" of success did not explain the poor performance of the Country Cove students. The negative effect of Country Cove upon science achievement did not disappear when all the variables were controlled, and, although the Country Cove students had a lower level of science achievement, their "folk theory" of getting ahead had a more positive effect on their science achievement than was found in Earletown.

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