Teaching

Teachers Deliver Less to Students of Color, Study Finds. Is Bias the Reason?

By Ileana Najarro — January 13, 2022 3 min read
Photo of blurred teacher pointing to a black girl who is raising her hand in a classroom. View is from the back of the student's head.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When working with students of color, particularly Black students, teachers lower down the rigor of assignments, ask fewer open-ended questions, and assign worksheets instead of group assignments, according to a new study out of New York University. Researchers point to racial biases about the academic abilities of students of color as a major factor.

“It’s not this overt ‘I have more Black students, I’m going to be racist,’ but I think it’s that when they go into a classroom that has more Black students it’s instinctual that the teachers actually kind of lower their standards. They use less-rigorous instruction,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, an NYU associate professor and sociologist and lead author of the study.

Research in the past has focused on how Black and Latino students are more likely than white peers to have teachers with one year or less of experience in the classroom, which can correlate with lower educational outcomes. But Cherng and his co-authors found that racial bias came into play in classroom instruction regardless of the teacher’s credentials or racial background.

The study, published last month, relied on a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded survey of U.S. public school teachers’ recorded classroom work from 2010 to 2012 in both English language arts and math classes in 7 large metropolitan areas. The data was evaluated by a third party group and then analyzed by the study’s authors. The goal was to determine to what extent teaching-effectiveness was due to differences among teachers or differences among classrooms taught by the same teacher; and whether factors such as student demographics play a role.

While the study found that instructional quality overall varied between classrooms taught by the same teacher, whenever there was a classroom of predominantly students of color teachers were systematically less likely to use proven instructional models they used with white students. For example, in a classroom with more white students, teachers were more likely to have them participate in group projects, Cherng said. But when there were students of color they used more individualized work such as filling out worksheets. In this latter case, teachers werelikely buying into a perceived bias that students of color are rowdier and would require more behavior management, Cherng said.

This kind of discrepancy was more prevalent in math classes than ELA classes. For example, teachers were less likely to ask Black students open-ended questions, limiting their ability to engage in an academic discussion by only allowing for one-word responses. This was likely due to a perceived bias that these students couldn’t handle such a discussion, Cherng added.

Solutions to resolve this disproportional lowering of teaching quality can be found in systemic changes within education, Cherng and others note.

Eric Duncan, senior P-12 data and policy analyst at the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocating for students from low-income families and students of color, encourages more culturally responsive training and implicit bias training for teachers in tandem with greater efforts to recruit and retain more teachers of color—the latter being a challenge exacerbated by staffing shortages and teacher burnout made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, Duncan said.

Specialized training, the diversification of the teacher workforce, and an overhaul of teacher preparation programs need to happen together, Cherng said, in part due to his study finding that teachers of color were not exempt from subscribing to anti-Black biases about their students.

Cherng notes that teachers are often trained to teach in a way that ends up aligning with racial bias and teachers of color, in particular, are not trained to draw on their identities and backgrounds as assets for working with students of color.

Given that the teachers in his study did display high- quality instruction, just not for all students, Cherng has hope for change to occur.

“Teachers can clearly do a good job,” he said. “Now we need to help them to make sure that they do a good job in an equitable way.”

Events

Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
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
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
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
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

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

Teaching Teachers Struggled to Stem 'Learning Loss' During Pandemic, GAO Finds
A report documents teachers' concerns about students losing academic ground during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 min read
Computer laptop on wooden desk with wireless and application programming and social media icons. Internet networking and wireless technology
Getty
Teaching Opinion One Key Classroom-Management Strategy for Middle Schools
A recent study found something very powerful about the value of praise.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching How U.S. Teachers Are Helping Ukrainian Students 'Half a World Apart'
Teachers at a U.S.-based virtual school share what it's like to teach students in a war-torn country.
4 min read
People look at a crater created by a Russian rocket attack in a school yard in Dobropillya, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022.
People look at a crater created by a Russian rocket attack in a school yard in Dobropillya, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in April.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Teaching Opinion Boost the Power of the Teaching Team by Enlisting Other School Staff
Show respect to classified staff members. Asking them to mentor students goes a long way toward that.
12 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty