More Black Teachers Mean More Educated Black Kids

A new study by Johns Hopkins has discovered that even one black teacher in elementary school helps more black students, who belong to the low-income families, to graduate and think about a college.

Droppings out of school fall by 29%, when at least one black teacher was there for black kids during their early years at school (from 3d to 5th grades.) For very low-income black boys, the results are even greater — their chance of dropping out fell 39 percent.

Previously, it was known that there are at least short-term benefits from a teacher of the same skin color as the kids. The Hopkins’ study has proved that if there is even a single black teacher for black kids for the long time, the positive impact can also last for years.

“Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits. We found the answer is a resounding yes,” said co-author of Johns Hopkins, Nicholas Papageorge. “We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys. It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”

About 100,000 black students participated in the research. They all were third graders in North Carolina Public Schools between 2001 and 2005. About 13% of the students ended up dropping out of high school, while about half graduated, but with no plans to pursue college.

However, low-income black students who were as good as randomly assigned to least one black teacher in 3d, 4th or 5th grade, were not only less likely to drop out of school, but 18% more likely to express interest in college when they graduated. And persistently low-income black boys — those who got free or reduced-price lunches throughout primary school — who had at least one black teacher in 3d, 4th or 5th grade, were 29% more likely to say they were considering college. If there is more than one black teacher for kids, the result is improving, though, not significantly.

The researchers also found that students who had at least one black teacher in kindergarten through grade three were 15% less likely to drop out. Having at least one black teacher in those grades also increased a student’s chances of taking a college entrance exam by 10%.

This “race match effect” is sometimes called “the role model effect,” that is, kids need to see someone like them, but older and more successful, to believe in themselves.

Papageorge calls it “a story about the power of expectations and the way people make investments in themselves.” In a study published last year, Papageorge and co-authors found that a race played a big part in how teachers judged a student’s abilities. When a black teacher and a white teacher looked at the same black student, the white teacher was about 40% less likely to predict the student would finish high school.

“If having a teacher with high expectations for you matters in high school, imagine how much it matters in the third grade,” Papageorge said. “Many of these kids can’t imagine being an educated person and perhaps that’s because they’ve never seen one that looks like them. Then, they get to spend a whole year with one. This one black teacher can change a student’s entire future outlook.”

Next the team would like to see if the benefits of teacher race matching last even longer, by looking at college completion rates and income data.

In the meantime, Papageorge hopes school policymakers consider how they could change a student’s chance at success by getting him into a classroom with a teacher of the same race. “This isn’t a situation where students need two, three or four black teachers to make a difference. This could be implementable tomorrow,” he said. “You could literally go into a school right now and switch around the rosters so that every black child gets to face a black teacher.”

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