White Teachers Have Pretty Low Opinions Of Their Black Students

"Racism is alive and well," one researcher says.
A new study found that white and black teachers had different predictions when asked about the same black student.
A new study found that white and black teachers had different predictions when asked about the same black student.
Wavebreakmedia via Getty Images

White teachers tend to have a lot more faith in the abilities of students who look like them, according to a new study.

The study from Johns Hopkins and American University researchers found when white and black teachers were asked about the same student, white teachers had comparatively negative predictions for their students of color.

The research was published in the journal Economics of Education Review. Conclusions are based on a data set from a 2002 longitudinal study that followed over 8,000 10th-grade students. Included in the data set was a survey where reading and math teachers were asked about the long-term capabilities of the same student. Researchers stratified survey answers by the race and gender of teachers and students.

The results are disheartening.

When asked to rank the likelihood that their students would graduate, white teachers (and other non-black educators) were 12 percentage points more likely than black teachers to say their black students wouldn't finish high school. On the other hand, black teachers had similar estimations of both their black and white students. Non-black educators were also significantly less likely to predict that their black students would complete college.

White teachers had particularly harsh predictions for black boys. Non-black teachers thought their black male students were 5 percent less likely to graduate high school than their black female students.

The study is the first step in a larger research project to determine how teacher expectations impact student outcomes, said Johns Hopkins University economist Nicholas Papageorge, who co-authored the study. This study does not yet show causation between teacher expectations and outcomes, but it does indicate a systemic bias. He called the results "shocking and alarming."

"What I would like to do is make teachers aware of biases," Papageorge said on the question of whether teachers should undergo cultural competency training. "Racism is alive and well. I'm sure when people look at a black young man they have certain views, and they might not realize they have these views, and that’s really dangerous."

The study raises questions about whether the low expectations white educators set for black students sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy -- especially when the nation's teaching force is currently overwhelmingly white and female.

If I’m a teacher and decide that a student isn’t any good, I may be communicating that to the student,” Papageorge said in a press release. “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.”


Rebecca Klein covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation, and the achievement gap in K-12 education. In particular, she is drilling down into the programs and innovations that are trying to solve these problems. Tips? Email Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com.


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