One way to help low-performing students do better in school could be to put them in classrooms with teachers who share their race, a new study says.
The study, which will be released in the April issue of the Economics of Education Review, looks at how students’ test scores are impacted by the race of their teachers. Through analyzing Florida Department of Education data, researchers found that black, white and Asian/Pacific Island students do slightly better in school during years when they share their classroom educator's race/ethnicity. Low-performing black and white students especially benefit from having teachers of their same race, the study says.
Researchers accessed the test scores of nearly 3 million Florida students between the 2001–02 and 2008-09 school years, as well as information about students’ and teachers' races. They focused on students’ statewide test scores between the third through 10th grades. After accounting for factors such as teacher quality and student poverty level, the researchers found that black and white students have better reading scores when taught by teachers who look like them, and that black, white and Asian/Pacific Island students have higher math scores when taught by teachers who look like them.
The research adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that it is imperative to diversify the teacher workforce, which is overwhelmingly white, Anna Egalite, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, told The Huffington Post.
Being taught by a nonwhite teacher doesn't negatively affect white students' success, but Egalite said it is linked to higher test scores for nonwhite students.
The 2014–15 school year is the first year a majority of students around the country come from minority groups.
“One group looks like most teachers right now and it’s not the lowest-performing group. It would do a world of good to attract talented minority teachers,” Egalite said. “The takeaway is to recruit more diverse teachers but not in a quality-blind way.”
Black and white students especially benefit from having demographically similar teachers in elementary school, whereas Asian/Pacific Island students benefit more from this in middle and high school.
Notably, the study ran into several limitations. The results are limited to one state, and researchers had trouble analyzing data for Hispanic students.
“Florida is unique in that the Hispanic population is very diverse,” Egalite said. “[Many] identify as being of Caribbean origin but then some identify as South American, Central American, Mexican. It’s hard to code that.”