A wealth of research supports the positive effects of teachers of color on the academic and life outcomes of students of color, and a new working paper from the Annenberg Institute adds two new and important findings to the mix: 1) white students also measurably benefit from having teachers of color; and, 2) teachers of color are more likely to bring certain positive attributes to the job that may explain why the benefit of having a teacher of color goes beyond a role model effect.
Using data from a National Center for Teacher Effectiveness (NCTE) study that randomly assigned 1,200 4th and 5th grade students to 300 core subject teachers in four large school districts, University of Maryland College Park researcher David Blazar looks into how a teacher's race impacts student achievement. He also examines other indicators of student success, including student-reported measures of self-efficacy, class engagement, and self-regulation, and how likely students are to be chronically absent or suspended. The NCTE data also included follow-up high school data for the students, so Blazar was able to track if some of the effects measured in elementary school would persist throughout students' K-12 careers.
In line with previous research, students of color who were assigned to a teacher of color in 4th or 5th grade rather than a white teacher saw significant increases in math and reading achievement, rates of achievement which persisted through high school. These students reported much higher levels of self-efficacy and class engagement in an elementary school survey and were 9% less likely to be chronically absent once they got to high school. Perhaps surprisingly, having a teacher of color did not make students of color less likely to be suspended either in elementary or high school.
The more novel finding is that the positive effects are not exclusively from matching student and teacher race. White students assigned to a teacher of color also saw modest but statistically significant gains in math, reading, and self-efficacy compared to white students assigned to white teachers, with the positive math and reading effects persisting into high school.
Much of the research finding positive effects of student-teacher race matching has assumed that the "role model effect" is a major mechanism. Blazar goes further in this research to unpack what might be leading to the positive outcomes teachers of color have on all their students.
In a survey on attitudes and self-reported practice, teachers of color were more likely than white teachers to express a growth mindset for their students, as well as having more in-depth relationships with students and their families. They were also slightly more likely to engage in scaffolding instruction, such as using formative assessments to better understand students' knowledge and skills then differentiating instruction based on individual students' needs. Further, in their classroom observations, teachers of color were slightly more likely to score higher on classroom management measures. Blazar estimates that these mediating factors account for up to 50% of the variance in student outcomes between teachers of color and white teachers, so while other less-tangible factors (including the role model effect) still clearly play a part, the findings suggest that there are attitudes and skills white teachers could adopt from these colleagues that could benefit their students.
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