Teacher Expectations and Race

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In a study published this past October (see http://www.latintimes.com/hispanic-education-news-study-finds-teachers-have-lower-expectations-latino-students-267098), researchers found that teachers expect less from their Hispanic students, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  What teachers believe about their students apparently does make a significant difference in how well they do in school.  According to the survey, teachers believe Hispanic students are 42% less likely to graduate from college than their white classmates.  (Black students are subject to even lower expectations as their teachers believe they are 47% less likely to graduate.)

Some might dismiss this as not important—what difference does it make what teachers think as long as they do their jobs and teach everybody the same way?  But researchers have found that there is a correlation between teacher expectations and student achievement.  Known as the “Pygmalion Effect,” having lower expectations can negatively impact how well students do in school, and the younger the students, the larger that impact is.

And this effect might be compounded by the lack of diversity in the teachers themselves.  Despite the 2014-2015 school year marking the first time since statistics were kept that the number of minority students in the United States is greater than the number of white students, teachers are still predominantly white.  A National Education Association (NEA) study shows that over 82% of U.S. teachers are Caucasian.  And using data from the 2010-2011 school year, a Center for American Progress study found that the gap between the percentage of minority students versus minority teachers is also quite large; when you subtract the percentage of minority teachers from the percentage of minority students in Illinois for example, you get a gap of 32%, eighth largest in the country and by far the highest in the Midwest, with Michigan next at 22%.  (You can find all the states’ rankings at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2014/05/04/88962/teacher-diversity-revisited/.)

It would be nice to believe our country has gotten past race, and that teachers would never unintentionally hurt their students due to racial biases which lead to lowered expectations.  The facts, however, don’t support these beliefs, so we need to keep working at both being colorblind when it comes to student expectations and trying to increase diversity on teaching staffs.  Awareness is a key factor in making these happen, so articles like these serve as helpful reminders.  The Latin Times article, in particular, is useful since it has links to six other interesting posts embedded in it.  There’s no easy or quick answer to either of these issues, so we need to keep studying them as we look for ways to improve.

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