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White teachers are more likely to expect their black students to fail

Apr 1, 2016

Credit Ilmicrofono Oggiono / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Johns Hopkins University released a study this week that shows why the lack of diversity in teaching is a pretty big deal.

The study - Who believes in me? The effect of student–teacher demographic match on teacher expectations - found that when evaluating the same black student, white teachers expect significantly less academic success than black teachers.

Particularly when it comes to black boys.

Researchers analyzed data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, an ongoing study following 8,400 10th grade public school students. For the survey, two different math or reading teachers, who each taught the same student, were asked to guess how far that one student would go in school.

According to the study:

When a black teacher and a white teacher evaluate the same black student, the white teacher is about 30 percent less likely to predict the student will complete a four-year college degree. White teachers are also almost 40 percent less likely to expect their black students will graduate high school.

And when it came to black boys, the study found:

· Non-black teachers were 5 percent more likely to predict their black boy students wouldn’t graduate high school than their black girls.

· Black female teachers are significantly more optimistic about the ability of black boys to complete high school than teachers of any other demographic group. They were 20 percent less likely than white teachers to predict their student wouldn’t graduate high school, and 30 percent less likely to say that then black male teachers.

Lack of diversity in the classroom

More than half of public school students are minorities, but 83 percent of their teachers are white.

Increasing attention has been drawn to the issue in recent years. National teachers unions and the U.S. Department of Education have tried to raise awareness and drum up more diverse recruits.

Just yesterday, I read an NPR story about a search firm that places underrepresented candidates in schools - for a mere $1,650 annual retainer, a $750 "high season fee" if you need their services between December and June, and a one-time, upfront fee of 14 percent of the person's annual salary if they find you a successful candidate.

That's quite a cost to pay for diversity.

State of Opportunity also took a look at the lack of diversity in the schools here in our state. And while Michigan scored a little better than average, that wasn't saying much.

Negative impact on student achievement

A teacher telling a student they're not smart will weigh heavily on how that student feels about their future and perhaps the effort they put into doing well in school.

Studies and anecdotal evidence have repeatedly shown that kids often connect best with people who look and sound like them.

Black students are about half as likely to be put on a "gifted" track by white teachers, even with test scores comparable to their white peers, and racial and demographic mismatch can be correlated to suspensions and absences, lowering student achievement.

According to the National Education Association:

Although their contributions are sometimes identified as having more of an impact on the social and relational areas than on academic performance, increasing the percentage of teachers of color in the workforce is connected directly to closing the achievement gap of students.

How do we increase diversity in teaching?

The Center for American Progress has a few ideas to help address the problem, including:

  • Paying for teacher training for young, underrepresented minorities;
  • improving teacher pay;
  • giving grants to teaching programs at historically black and Hispanic colleges;
  • smoothing the currently bumpy pathway from community colleges to four-year schools with education programs; and
  • offering more emotional support and professional development classes for such teachers.

America's diversity should be reflected in our teaching force - for the sake of our kids, if nothing else. All students deserve an equal shot at success, and equal expectation.

Nicholas Papageorge is co-author of the Johns Hopkins study. He said in a press release:

If I’m a teacher and decide that a student isn’t any good, I may be communicating that to the student. A teacher telling a student they’re not smart will weigh heavily on how that student feels about their future and perhaps the effort they put into doing well in school.

You can read the full Johns Hopkins University study here.