TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

The powerful impact of Black role models

See all posts

The impact of students' exposure to a teacher who looks like them is remarkably positive, from improving test scores to increasing graduation rates. Still, Black (as well as Latinx) teachers remain underrepresented in the teacher workforce, largely the result of a very leaky pipeline that includes a lower proportion of Black college students choosing to major in education, lower college completion rates, and lower rates of hiring and retention when compared to the statistics for white teachers.

When examining who is teaching advanced courses in high schools, this underrepresentation looms large. A 2004 study found that only one of nine Black students attended a school with even one Black AP instructor.

Their absence does not go unnoticed by Black students. In "An Honors Teacher Like Me," Cassandra Hart of the University of California, Davis finds that the presence of Black teachers in advanced track courses (e.g., Honors, AP, IB) produces a higher probability of Black students in that school not just enrolling, but passing advanced track courses. An important caveat when it comes to AP outcomes, however, was that rates of Black students either taking or passing the AP exams was not impacted by the assignment of Black teachers to advanced courses.

These findings provide some clear guidelines for principals considering how to thoughtfully staff their schools, making sure that Black students see teachers who look like them represented in higher-level courses.