For Black Students, Having a Black Teacher Can Be a Benefit, Study Finds

By Sasha Jones — December 20, 2018 2 min read
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Matching students with teachers of the same race can yield positive effects for some groups of students in math and reading, according to a new study of Tennessee schoolchildren.

The study examines longitudinal data, including test scores from the state-mandated TCAP exam, for Tennessee 3rd through 8th graders between the 2009-2010 and 2014-2015 school years. Overall, the sample consisted of over 400,000 student observations in reading and over 600,000 in math. Almost 14,000 teachers in about 1,600 schools were examined.

The study was co-authored by Ela Joshi and Sy Doan, both doctoral candidates at Vanderbilt University, and Matthew Springer, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although the study did not find significant effects on student test scores throughout the full sample, certain subgroups did show slight improvement as a result of having a teacher of the same race.

Black elementary students scored 0.042 standard deviations higher in reading and 0.075 standard deviations higher in math than they did during years when they were assigned to a teacher of a different race. Similarly, students in the bottom-most performance quartile in math scored 0.061 standard deviations higher and students in the middle two quartiles of performance in math scored 0.044 to 0.049 standard deviations higher.

The study did not find a significant relationship for white students and did not interpret the estimates for Hispanic or Asian students due to the small population of students and teachers of those races in Tennessee.

Additionally, researchers examined Tennessee’s teacher value-added assessment system to find that black students assigned to mid-performing teachers of the same race experienced higher test scores, while students who were matched with higher- or lower-performing teachers of the same race did not.

According to Joshi, the positive effects from having same-race teachers may be because students may feel less threatened in the classroom, see such teachers as role-models, or because teachers of color may be able to better employ culturally responsive teaching practices.

Overall, elementary students are more influenced by having a teacher of the same race, according to the report. This may be because elementary students spend more time with their teachers, while middle schoolers often rotate to several teachers throughout the day. Also, this may be attributed to the developmental age at which elementary students are experiencing the teacher.

This study supports previous research on matching students and teachers of the same race that was conducted in Florida.

“The fact that we’re seeing similar results by using data from different states ... suggests that the phenomena potentially could be transcending state borders,” said Joshi.

Still, Joshi encourages researchers to continue examining the effects of race-matching in other geographic areas as the context of each state may differ.

Similarly, another study, which examined data from 10th grade students in Tennessee and North Carolina, found that if a black student had one black teacher by 3rd grade, he or she was 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. Students who have had two black teachers became 32 percent more likely to enroll.

According to the more recent Tennessee study, while students of color represent 51 percent of the public school population, only 18 percent of teachers in that state identify as belonging to a minority group.

Photo Courtesy of Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.