There's mounting evidence that when black students have black teachers, those students are more likely to graduate high school. That new study takes this idea even further, providing insight into the way students actually think and feel about the teachers who look like them and those who don't.
Using student survey data from six U.S. school districts, we estimate how assignment to a demographically similar teacher affects student reports of personal effort, happiness in class, feeling cared for and motivated by their teacher, the quality of student–teacher communication, and college aspirations. Relying on a classroom fixed-effects strategy, we show that students assigned to a teacher with similar demographic characteristics experience positive benefits in terms of these academic perceptions and attitudes. The most consistent benefits are among gender matches, and the largest benefits are demonstrated by the combination of gender and racial/ethnic matches. The effects of gender matches are largely consistent across elementary and middle school, while the most consistent effects from race matches occur in middle school.
Here's how it worked:
-Researchers surveyed more than 80,000 public school students, grades four through eight, across six different states.
-These students were asked to evaluate how well their teachers led their classrooms.
-The researchers paid special attention to the way students — black, white and Hispanic — in the same classes rated the same teachers.
The study found that when students had teachers of the same race as them, they reported feeling more cared for, more interested in their schoolwork and more confident in their teachers' abilities to communicate with them. These students also reported putting forth more effort in school and having higher college aspirations.
When students had teachers who didn't look like them, the study found, they reported lower levels of these feelings and attitudes. These trends were most visible in black students, especially black girls.
These findings support the idea that students do better in school when they can view their teachers as role models, says Brian Kisida, who coauthored the paper. And if that teacher looks like you, you might perceive them as precisely that, a role model.
One problem: a growing number of students don't have teachers who look like them. The majority of students in public school are students of color, while most teachers identify as white. And this so-called teacher-diversity gap likely contributes to racial disparities in academic performance.
"The national achievement gap is unidirectional," says Anna Egalite, another coauthor. Students who are white fare far better than students who aren't, and that might have something to do with the relative homogeneity of teachers. According to recent statistics, just 18 percent of teachers were people of color. But a more diverse population of teachers alone won't help students of color, says Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. To change attitudes and behaviors about school, she says, "We need teachers who view their students of color as whole people."
Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, a sociologist at New York University and he's just published a paper with colleague Peter Halpin found that it seems that students of all races — white, black, Latino, and Asian — have more positive perceptions of their black and Latino teachers than they do of their white teachers.
They looked at a group of 1,700 sixth- through ninth-grade teachers from more than 300 schools in cities around the country. The students had completed 30-question surveys, asking about a variety of different dimensions of teaching.
-How much does this teacher challenge his students?
-How supportive is she?
-How well does he manage the classroom?
-How captivating does she make the subject?
Cherng and Halpin found that all the students, including white students, had significantly more favorable perceptions of Latino versus white teachers across the board, and had significantly more favorable perceptions of black versus white teachers on at least two or three of seven categories in the survey.
The strongest positive relationship was the flipside of what Cherng experienced in his own classroom: Asian-American students had very rosy views of their black teachers.