Equity & Diversity

‘Racial Mismatch’ Affects Discipline, Attendance for Boys of Color

By Evie Blad — December 23, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is a cross post from the Inside School Research blog.

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 dig into how racial differences between teachers and students may play out in student behavior in a new discussion paper for the German Institute for the Study of Labor.

It’s the latest in mounting evidence of the challenges that can occur when there are racial, gender, and cultural differences between teachers and students. Back in September, I wrote about a prior study by Gershenson, Holt, and Johns Hopkins University researcher Nicholas Papageorge that found teachers were significantly more likely to believe a student would graduate high school and go on to college if they were both of the same race than if their races were different--particularly if the teacher was white and the student black.

The current study takes another approach, using state longitudinal administrative data from South Carolina. The American University researchers in tracked nearly 990,000 elementary school students from 2006 to 2012. They compared students’ absenteeism and suspension rates to both their own classmates in a given year and changes from year to year, as the students experienced teachers of different races.

Both suspensions and chronic absenteeism--missing 10 percent or more of the school year--were rare among students, but there were significant differences. Boys were more likely than girls, and black and Hispanic students were more likely than white or Asian students to miss school or be suspended, Gershenson and Holt found.

On average, having a teacher of a different race slightly increased the average number of days a student was absent or times he or she was suspended. But the increased risk that minority boys would miss or be put out of class was huge. 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 a third of the racial gap in suspensions, and 1/6th of the racial gap in chronic absenteeism.

“The effects of racial mismatch aren’t widespread on everybody, but for a relatively small subset of students, there are really huge effects,” Gersenson, an education policy economist at American University, said. “Some students are really on the margin of [negative] behaviors, and something small like having a teacher who looks like you might be enough to tip them over into not doing them.”

The racial mismatch could also affect how teachers interact with parents on sensitive issues, such as an elementary student’s repeated absences.

“Especially in primary school, the parents play an important role in getting the students to school,” he said. “The relationships and conversations between teachers and parents may be a little more relaxed, a little more direct and meaningful among same-race parents.”

While the researchers suggested their fidings bolster the case for hiring and holding onto a more diverse teaching force, “The sheer numbers mean we can’t hire a perfectly representative teaching force,” Gershenson said. “So, the next best step is to implement some of these interventions ... that mitigate unconscious bias and generally improve the relationships between teachers and students and students’ families.”

For example, schools that include co-teaching or pair teams of teachers with one cohort of students could increase students’ exposure to teachers of both their own and other races, Gershenson said, but it is not known yet whether having one teacher of the same race would provide a buffering effect.


Related:

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Illustrations.
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty