Equity & Diversity Report Roundup

Classroom Bias

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 05, 2016 1 min read

If you’re a boy of color in elementary school, your likelihood of being suspended or missing class rises significantly if you are assigned to a teacher of another race.

American University researchers Seth Gershenson and Stephen Holt dug into how racial differences between teachers and students may play out in student behavior in a discussion paper for the German Institute for the Study of Labor. The researchers used state longitudinal administrative data from South Carolina to track nearly 990,000 elementary school students from 2006 to 2012.

While on average having a teacher of a different race slightly increased the average numbers of days a student was absent or the times he or she was suspended, the added risk was especially high for minority boys. A black boy was 30 percent more likely to be suspended when taught by a white woman than when taught by a black woman. Having a teacher of a different race accounted for one-third of the racial gap in suspensions, and one-sixth of the racial gap in chronic absenteeism.

The researchers said their findings suggest the need for interventions “that mitigate unconscious bias and generally improve the relationships between teachers and students and students’ families.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2016 edition of Education Week as Classroom Bias

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