A recent study conducted by NYU Steinhardt and published in Educational Researcher has found that most middle and high school students have more favourable impressions of their black and Latino teachers than they do of white teachers. This finding has been shown true for students of all races and ethnicity.
This study comes at a time when race relations in the US are especially tense given the Black Lives Matter movement and the rhetoric of current presidential candidates. This makes the results even more surprising and significant. The study authors place special importance on these findings given that there is a large demographic divide between teachers and students. They point out that the minority races combined comprise the majority of urban school students, while less than twenty percent of teachers belong to a minority group.[i] This means that the instructors often don’t identify with the students racially or ethnically.
One author, Cheng, is quoted as stating that “An overwhelmingly white teacher force is working with a majority non-white student population.”[ii] This is of concern given that minority teachers can be more sensitive to cultural needs and serve as positive role models for minority students. Scholars have long thought that minority teachers would work well with minority students-a concept called race matching. However, this study has shown that in many instances, the white students prefer minority instructors as well.
The authors used the Measure of Effective Teaching tool to analyze data from 1,680 teachers across 200 different schools located in urban areas. This includes more than 50,000 students in grades six through nine from the 2009-2010 school year. The Measure of Effective Teaching uses in-depth surveys completed by the students themselves to report on issues including how the teacher motivates them academically, how well the instructor manages behaviour of students, how well the teacher builds supportive relationships with students, how much the teacher welcomes the opinions of students, how well the teacher stimulates interest in the course material, how well the teacher employs multiple methods of teaching to explain the material to all students and how well the teacher makes connections amount all of the concepts that are covered. The students also self-reported their race or ethnicity as well as gender and age.[iii]
Key findings from this study include:
- Students perceive black and Latino teachers more favourably than white teachers.
- Latino teachers were perceived better across all measures, while black teachers were only perceived better at holding students to high academic standards, helping them organize content, and their ability to explain ideas clearly and provide feedback.
- There is mixed evidence that race matching is linked with more favourable student perceptions.
The authors suggest that it is possible that minority teachers may relate to students better by drawing from their own experiences. This gives them a higher level of multicultural awareness, which can be linked to more positive classroom environments. The findings from this study extend that theory to indicate that minority teachers do not just identify better with similar minority students, or even students that share the same race or ethnicity with them, but they identify better with all students.[iv]
Given the results of this study, it may be important to highlight the need to employ a diverse teaching force, which can help close the longstanding racial achievement gaps in the education system. It also speaks to the concept that schools may better serve students, both academically and socially, when their teaching force closely mirrors their student population.[v]