TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

How Black teachers make a difference

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Black teachers (and teachers of color in general) have a well-documented positive impact on Black students' academic and life outcomes. New research digs deeper, asking whether these positive effects hold for all students, regardless of race, and if so, why? In a recent working paper, researcher David Blazar at the University of Maryland begins to answer these questions, exploring how strong teaching practices contribute to Black teachers' impact for all of their students.

Building on a previous study of teachers of color, Blazar narrowed his lens to the impact of Black teachers in particular. Using data from an extant research project of over a thousand upper elementary students whose classes were randomly assigned to be taught by either a Black teacher or white teacher, Blazar looked at academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes for students. Data sources from the research project that Blazar used in this analysis included test scores, behavioral records, teacher and student surveys, and scored classroom observations.

Blazar found that being assigned a Black teacher produced greater outcomes for all students, regardless of students' race, compared to being assigned a white teacher. Being assigned a Black teacher increased students' math and reading test scores and decreased chronic absenteeism by roughly 60%—all at the same rates for Black and non-Black students. Several of these benefits could still be seen up to six years later. For Black students, being assigned a Black teacher increased students' self-reported sense of self-efficacy and engagement. At the same time, students assigned to a Black teacher were actually more likely to be suspended during the year (although unlike white teachers, Black teachers did not suspend their Black students at a disproportionately higher rate than their white students).

What might account for Black teachers' positive impact? Blazar analyzed the role of elements of "good teaching," including forming strong relationships with students and families, adopting a growth mindset, and running a well-organized classroom without creating a negative climate. On the whole, Black teachers demonstrated more of these good teaching practices and mindsets than their white peers, as evidenced by classroom observations and a survey of self-reported attitudes and practices.

Those practices (specifically a growth mindset and running a well-organized classroom) accounted for some of Black teachers' positive contributions to student outcomes—but not all. Rather, these findings suggest that much of what makes Black educators effective goes beyond teaching practices measured in this study. The author also suggests that social effects like role modeling (the benefits of having a teacher who looks like the students and serves as a role model, a hypothesis not tested in this paper) might be at play, although this effect could not wholly explain Black teachers' positive impact across all students.

While important questions remain, Blazar's work adds important depth to the literature on Black educators, reinforces the urgent need to attract and support Black teachers, and points the way toward skills (such as classroom organization and a growth mindset) to cultivate in all current and prospective teachers.