Cultural Differences and the Construction of Meaning


  • Robert A. Peña Arizona State University



Academic Achievement, Administrators, Constructivism (Learning), Cultural Awareness, Cultural Differences, Educational Environment, High Achievement, Instructional Leadership, Low Achievement, Mexican Americans, Middle School Students, Middle Schools


The relationships between student achievement, student culture and practitioners' attitudes and expectations were investigated. Student achievement was defined as academic performance but also included perceptions, rationales and explanations for student behaviors and conduct. Student culture described student's Mexican American origins, customs and beliefs. Practitioners' attitudes described how middle school personnel perceived Mexican American high and underachieving students generally, and practitioners' expectations described how personnel interacted and behaved toward Mexican American students. Results indicated that Mexican American students perceived themselves and school personnel perceived these students as different from Anglo students. Mexican American cultural traditions were also perceived as inferior and disadvantageous by high achieving Mexican American students and by personnel. Underachieving Mexican American students generally valued their cultural traditions more positively than high achieving students becoming resistant to learning when these traditions were marginalized in school. Student achievement was also related to student compliance, student appearance, styles in written and verbal communication and practitioners' perceptions about the willingness of Mexican American students to practice and support Anglo norms. These findings are congruent with theories that discuss relationships between student achievement, student culture and practitioners' attitudes and expectations. Theories about school failure occurring less frequently in minority groups that are positively oriented toward their own and the dominant culture were contradicted and not supported in this research.


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Author Biography

Robert A. Peña, Arizona State University

Robert Peña is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at Arizona State University. He was graduated in 1993 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with is Ph.D. in Educational Administration. Dr. Peña was awarded his M.A. in Secondary English Education in 1988 from SUNY Buffalo and his B.S. in English in 1984 from Buffalo State College. He has served as a public school principal, assistant principal, program coordinator and teacher. Dr. Peña's research interests include poverty, interagency collaboration and their implications for value centered leadership. He also writes on the relationship between organizational theory and behavior and disadvantaged students and families.




How to Cite

Peña, R. A. (1997). Cultural Differences and the Construction of Meaning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 5, 10.




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