Closing the performance gap between black and white teachers means talking about racism
The National Interest: Once a month, this column is tackling broader questions about what the country should do about gaps in achievement and opportunity, especially for boys of color, in a partnership with The Root.
In recent years, an outburst of national studies and exposés has shown that black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for black students compared to their white counterparts. This has led to numerous articles calling for the recruitment of more black teachers and/or asking where all the black teachers have gone. But the flipside to those studies isn’t making as many headlines. What’s wrong with white teachers? How do we close the black-white teaching performance gap?
Extolling the need for more black teachers is not the same as demanding white teachers be less racist. Naming what’s wrong with white people’s teaching skills must begin with calling out racism. We certainly need more black teachers, but recruitment isn’t a solution for the racism students and teachers of color face everyday.
The research is overwhelming.
Black teachers on average are better for black students (and in some cases for white students too) and white teachers on average are worse for black students. Black primary-school students who are matched to a same-race teacher performed better on standardized tests and face more favorable teacher perceptions according to recent findings from the German economic research group Institute of Labor Economics. Some of the same researchers found in a separate study published by Johns Hopkins University that low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college.
Is it because black teachers are better educators? Not necessarily, although research suggests that may be part of it. A study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that students of color and white students viewed minority teachers more highly than white teachers. But one of the key reasons black students tend to perform better with black teachers has to do with expectations.