elementary school teacher helping student in classroom

AU Study Finds Racial Bias in School

Do teacher expectations vary depending on the race of their students? A new study conducted by economists at American University’s School of Public Affairs in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University Department of Economics found the answer, and it might surprise you.

In order to understand the importance of the study, recently published in The Economics of Education Review, you have to appreciate the real-world implications of teacher expectations. It’s not simply a thought in the mind of an educator, but an indicator of how well the child in question will perform. As study co-author Seth Gershenson said, “This is a big concern since teacher expectations likely shape student success, not just in school, but in life as well.” The team at AU took on this project because of the effects teacher bias has on a young student’s life trajectory.

Their efforts reveal that non-black teachers have significantly lower educational expectations for black students than black teachers do when evaluating the same students. This is a substantial discovery. It means that race alone is enough to generate middling expectations, and that black students are at a disadvantage when paired with non-black teachers. Taking a look at how the study was conducted provides more insight.

Gershenson, an assistant professor at AU’s School of Public affairs, and Nicholas Papageorge, a Johns Hopkins professor, utilized a nationally representative survey of U.S. 10th graders that asked two teachers per student how much education they expected the student to ultimately complete. Each pair of teachers evaluated the same student at the same time, one teacher was black and the other non-black.

It was ultimately found that, “a non-black teacher is about 30 percent less likely to expect that the [black] student will complete a four-year college degree than the black teacher,” said Papageorge, who is quick to caution against playing the blame game. “Bias is part of human nature,” he said, “but [the study] provides a place to start a dialogue between educators, policymakers, parents, researchers, and other stakeholders.”

And therein lies the crux of this study. Instead of pointing fingers, it brings to light a fundamental truth that pervades our schooling system, and provides concrete evidence to start a necessary conversation. Thanks to the dedicated scholars at American University’s School of Public Affairs and Johns Hopkins, we can now take steps to alleviate this overlooked issue and start building a better future for our nation’s students.

Want to influence the national discourse? Check out American University’s School of Public Affairs today!

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