Here's to a job well done--or was it?

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When those final essays are due in English class, the image that comes to mind is that of teachers with red pens, mercilessly marking up students' work. A new study from a team of New Jersey researchers suggests that the red comments in the margins take a different tone depending upon the race of the student being graded.

The crux of the matter is that white teachers tend to provide more positive feedback to black and Latino students than to white students, even when the quality of the work is the same. The disparity raises concerns about how racial biases might lead teachers to lower expectations for minority students and thereby perpetuate the achievement gap between those students and their white peers.

All interesting stuff, but the research team made a puzzling methodological decision (at least in our view). They factored in, of all things, whether teachers' perceptions of how well they were personally supported in their schools affected feedback biases. White teachers who identified school administrators and fellow teachers as "friendly and supportive" were actually less likely to then provide biased feedback toward black students. The researchers postulate that a supportive school environment probably makes teachers feel less stressed and more comfortable, and thus less likely to give minority students praise they may not fully deserve. That's a mighty long thread.

Still the essence of this research is important. In a profession that often preaches instructional rigor and high expectations, racial biases are clearly getting in the way of staying true to those standards. Perhaps a broader acceptance by teacher educators of "Lemov-ian" methods--as in Doug Lemov--such as his Technique #2 "Right is Right," might encourage teachers to hold all students to high standards more consistently.