Study shows the impact of black teachers as role models

Twenty Ten Talent - Just one teacher

A new study shows exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 increases the likelihood that disadvantaged black students will aspire to attend college.

The research, titled The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers, also shows black primary school students matched to a same-race teacher perform better on standardized tests and face more favorable teacher perceptions.

Published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, the study was authored by Seth Gershenson and Constance A. Lindsay of American University, Cassandra M.D. Hart of University of California, Davis and Nicholas Papageorge at Johns Hopkins University.

I personally never had a black teacher, in primary school, secondary school or at university. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to have someone guide me, outside of my family, who also shared my heritage. I spoke to co-author Seth Gershenson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at American University, about the study’s findings.

What inspired you to embark on the study?
This was a natural extension of a broad research agenda I’ve been pursuing for the past three to four years, along with Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University and a PhD student at American University, Stephen B. Holt.

A consensus of researchers, educators, policymakers, and parents agrees that teachers are the most important school-provided input. We know that providing effective teachers to all students is crucial to closing socioeconomic and demographic achievement gaps and that teachers vary widely in their effectiveness. Yet this knowledge alone is not enough, as identifying effective teachers, and the practices that make them effective, is difficult.

One exception is that we know that black students tend to score higher on standardized tests when assigned to a same-race teacher. But why? And are such race-match effects persistent or do they fade out? These questions led to a series of projects that document the presence of racial bias in teachers’ expectations for students’ long-run educational attainment, the impact of teachers’ expectations on the probability that students complete a four-year college degree, that same-race and same-sex first-year law instructors significantly increase students’ course grades and graduation rates, and that having a same-race teacher significantly reduces the frequency of chronic absence.

So, the literature, to now, has convincingly shown that there are causal effects of exposure to same-race teachers on immediate outcomes such as attendance and test scores. But, whether these race-match effects affect the long-run outcomes that we ultimately care about, like high school and college completion, labor market success, civic engagement, and so on, is unclear. Our work on expectations suggest that it does, and this is what we set out to prove in the current study.

What was the most striking finding from your research?
The most striking result is that among persistently disadvantaged black boys, having at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 reduced the probability of dropping out of high school by 39%.

What insights do you now have on the impact of role models on black girls?
A common misperception, given the focus of many media reports on the effect on boys’ dropout rates discussed above, is that we did not include girls in the study. But this not so. It is true that we do not find effects on girls’ high school graduation decisions, which we speculatively attribute to girls being much more likely to graduate high school in the first place. However, we also investigated the long-run effects of same-race teachers on college intent, which we measured as either students’ self-reported college intent at the time of high school graduation, or as whether the student took a college entrance exam such as the ACT or SAT.

Here, we find significant effects for both boy and girls. For example, for low-income black students of either sex, having at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 increased the probability of college intent by 18%.

You can access The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers study here.


Post by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema


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