Do Black Students Need Black Teachers to Excel?

Do Black Students Need Black Teachers to Excel?

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If you’re a boy of color in elementary school, your likelihood of being suspended or missing class rises significantly if you are assigned to a teacher of a race different from yours.

American University researchers Seth Gershenson and Stephen Holt dig into how racial differences between teachers and students may play out in student behavior in a new discussion paper for the German Institute for the Study of Labor.

[Related: Chicago Public Schools as Scrooge]

It’s the latest in mounting evidence of the challenges that can occur when there are racial, gender, and cultural differences between teachers and students. Back in September, Sarah D. Sparks wrote about a prior study by Gershenson, Holt, and Johns Hopkins University researcher Nicholas Papageorge that found that teachers were significantly more likely to believe a student would graduate from high school and go on to college if they were both of the same race, versus if their races were different–particularly if the teacher was white and the student was black.

The current study takes another approach, using state longitudinal administrative data from South Carolina. The American University researchers tracked nearly 990,000 elementary school students from 2006 to 2012. They compared students’ absenteeism and suspension rates to both their own classmates in a given year and changes from year to year, as the students experienced teachers of different races.

Both suspensions and chronic absenteeism–missing 10% or more of the school year–were rare among students, but there were significant differences. Boys were more likely than girls, and black and Hispanic students were more likely than white or Asian students to miss school or be suspended, Gershenson and Holt found.

On average, having a teacher of a different race slightly increased the average number of days a student was absent or times he or she was suspended. But the increased risk that minority boys would miss or be put out of class was huge.

Read more at Education Week.