Date of Award

Spring 1993

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services - Urban Education

Committee Director

Nicholas G. Bountress

Committee Member

Jack Robinson

Committee Member

Maurice R. Berube

Committee Member

Robert Lucking


A comparatively large number of African American children fail in urban schools. Hundreds of research studies concerning interpersonal expectations suggest a link between teacher expectancies and pupil performance. Researchers have found that teachers expect less of students who speak nonstandard English. Attempts to modify teachers' culturo-linguistic attitudes and expectations have been unsuccessful. While teachers' beliefs, theories, and attitudes change over time as a function of teaching experience, the mechanisms for change are unclear.

This study has attempted to uncover events to which teachers attribute a change in their culturo-linguistic attitudes. Once causal conditions for change have been identified, then those conditions might be considered in the development of new programs designed to produce change.

The study took place in the urban elementary parochial schools in the area of South Hampton Roads, Virginia. A sample of 121 parochial school teachers completed the Language Attitude Scale (LAS) in August, 1991, (pretest) and again in May, 1992 (posttest). Orlando Taylor had developed, validated and used the LAS in a national study of culturo-linguistic attitudes. Teachers who reported a significant attitude-shift were asked in in-depth interviews to identify their attributions for change.

Surprisingly, changes in attitude were primarily negative. Of 114 teachers showing changes in attitude, 83 showed negative changes.

In-depth interviews revealed that the primary attribution for negative change was consistent with Cognitive Dissonance Theory and resulted from exposure to students who spoke exclusively nonstandard English. Teachers came to associate negative student attitudes and behaviors with students' use of the dialect. As a result of this association, teachers' affective response to the use of dialect changed, setting up a conflict with previously held cognitive beliefs affirming cultural and individual differences. Subsequently, this dissonance was resolved by a negative shift in teachers' attitudes toward the use of the dialect. Such results strongly suggest the need for intervention with teachers who will be instructing dialect-speaking students for the first time regardless of number of years of previous teaching experience.