As the United States becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, education leaders are pushing for greater diversity among public school teachers. A growing body of research suggests children benefit in many ways from having a teacher of the same race or ethnicity. Published studies, for example, suggest black students do better in reading and math and are less likely to be suspended from school when they have black teachers.
While the overwhelming majority of U.S. teachers are white, the proportion of minority teachers has grown from 13 percent in 1987-88 to 18 percent in 2011-12, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education.
Journalist’s Resource has pulled together a sampling of academic studies that explore how a teacher’s race or ethnicity may influence students in areas such as academic performance, classroom discipline and self-confidence. Toward the bottom of this page, we also provide links to other helpful resources, including data on student and teacher demographics and reports that explain some of the challenges school districts face in recruiting more teachers of color.
“Exposure to Same-Race Teachers and Student Disciplinary Outcomes for Black Students in North Carolina”
Lindsay, Constance A.; Hart, Cassandra M. D. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 2017. DOI: 10.3102/0162373717693109.
Abstract: “Using student-level administrative data from North Carolina, we explore whether exposure to same-race teachers affects the rate at which Black students receive exclusionary discipline, such as out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, and expulsion. We find consistent evidence that exposure to same-race teachers is associated with reduced rates of exclusionary discipline for Black students. This relationship holds for elementary, middle, and high school grade ranges for male and female students, and for students who do and do not use free and reduced-price lunch. Although we find reductions in referrals for a number of different types of offenses, we find particularly consistent evidence that exposure to same-race teachers lowers office referrals for willful defiance across all grade levels, suggesting that teacher discretion plays a role in driving our results.”
“A Kindergarten Teacher Like Me: The Role of Student-Teacher Race in Social-Emotional Development”
Wright, Adam; Gottfried, Michael A.; Le, Vi-Nhuan. American Educational Research Journal, 2017. DOI: 10.3102/0002831216635733.
Abstract: “Our nation’s classrooms have become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. Given these demographic changes, many policymakers and practitioners have expressed the need for increased attention to how teacher diversity might be linked to reducing racial/ethnic differences in teachers’ ratings of social-emotional skills for students of color. Using the most recent nationally representative data, we investigated whether kindergarteners have different social-emotional ratings when they had a teacher whose racial/ethnic group was the same as their own. We found that having a teacher of the same race was unrelated to teachers’ ratings of children’s internalizing problem behaviors, interpersonal skills, approaches to learning, and self-control. However, students whose teachers’ race/ethnicity matched their own had more favorable ratings of externalizing behaviors. Results are discussed in terms of implications for school disciplinary policies.”
“Teacher and Principal Diversity and the Representation of Students of Color in Gifted Programs: Evidence from National Data”
Grissom, Jason A.; Rodriguez, Luis A.; Kern, Emily C. The Elementary School Journal, 2017. DOI: 10.1086/690274.
Abstract: “Students of color are significantly underrepresented in gifted programs relative to their White peers. Drawing on political science research suggesting that public organizations more equitably distribute policy outputs when service providers share characteristics with their client populations, we investigate whether representation of students of color in gifted programs is higher in schools with racially/ethnically diverse teachers and principals. In a nationally representative sample of elementary schools created by merging two waves of data from the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Schools and Staffing Survey, we find that schools with larger numbers of Black teachers or a Black principal have greater representation of Black students in gifted programs. We find a similar relationship for Hispanic teachers and representation of Hispanic students. Further evidence suggests that a critical mass of teachers of color is necessary for teacher race/ethnicity to be associated with higher representation of students of color in gifted programs.”
“Who Believes in Me? The Effect of Student–Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations”
Gershenson, Seth; Holt, Stephen B.; Papageorge, Nicholas W. Economics of Education Review, 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2016.03.002.
Abstract: “Teachers are an important source of information for traditionally disadvantaged students. However, little is known about how teachers form expectations and whether they are systematically biased. We investigate whether student–teacher demographic mismatch affects high school teachers’ expectations for students’ educational attainment. Using a student fixed effects strategy that exploits expectations data from two teachers per student, we find that non-black teachers of black students have significantly lower expectations than do black teachers. These effects are larger for black male students and math teachers. Our findings add to a growing literature on the role of limited information in perpetuating educational attainment gaps.”
“Teacher-Child Racial/Ethnic Match within Pre-Kindergarten Classrooms and Children’s Early School Adjustment”
Downer, Jason T.; Goble, Priscilla; Myers, Sonya S.; Pianta, Robert C. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2016.02.007.
Abstract: “Using a large, longitudinal data set that represents 701 state-funded pre-k classrooms and over 2,900 children enrolled in 11 states, the current study examined two hypotheses: (1) children would be perceived to be better adjusted at the beginning of pre-k when rated by a same-race teacher than by a different-race teacher, and (2) children would demonstrate greater gains during the pre-k year when in the classroom of a same-race teacher. Children rarely experienced a teacher with a different race/ethnicity from themselves, except in the case of African American or Latino children attending Caucasian teachers’ classrooms. When examining the school readiness outcomes of African American or Latino children matched or mismatched racially/ethnically with their teacher, racial/ethnic match demonstrated significant associations with the direct assessment of academic skills for Latino children only. However, teachers’ initial perceptions of children and teacher reported social and academic gains were significantly associated with racial/ethnic match for African American children.”
“The Importance of Minority Teachers: Student Perceptions of Minority Versus White Teachers”
Cherng, Hua-Yu Sebastian; Halpin, Peter F. Educational Researcher, 2016. DOI:10.3102/0013189X16671718.
Abstract: “The demographic divide between teachers and students is of growing public concern. However, few studies have explicitly addressed the common argument that students, and particularly minority students, have more favorable perceptions of minority versus White teachers. Using data from the Measure of Effective Teaching study, we find that students perceive minority teachers more favorably than White teachers. There is mixed evidence that race matching is linked with more favorable student perceptions. These findings underscore the importance of minority teacher recruitment and retention.”
“Representation in the Classroom: The Effect of Own-Race Teachers on Student Achievement”
Egalite, Anna J.; Kisida, Brian; Winters, Marcus A. Economics of Education Review, 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2015.01.007.
Abstract: “Previous research suggests that there are academic benefits when students and teachers share the same race/ethnicity because such teachers can serve as role models, mentors, advocates, or cultural translators. In this paper, we obtain estimates of achievement changes as students are assigned to teachers of different races/ethnicities from grades 3 through 10 utilizing a large administrative dataset provided by the Florida Department of Education that follows the universe of test-taking students in Florida public schools from 2001-2002 through 2008-2009. We find small but significant positive effects when black and white students are assigned to race-congruent teachers in reading (.004-.005 standard deviations) and for black, white and Asian/Pacific Island students in math (.007-.041 standard deviations). We also examine the effects of race matching by students’ prior performance level, finding that lower-performing black and white students appear to particularly benefit from being assigned to a race-congruent teacher.”
“Does It Matter if Teachers and Schools Match the Student? Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Problem Behaviors”
Bates, Littisha A.; Glick, Jennifer E. Social Science Research, 2013. DOI: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.04.005.
Abstract: “Black youth often lag behind their non-Hispanic white peers in educational outcomes, including teacher-evaluated school performance. Using data from four waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, the analyses presented here identify the extent to which children receive different evaluations from their teachers depending on the racial/ethnic match of teachers and students. This study is distinct from previous work because we examine the assessment of an individual child by multiple teachers. The results indicate that Black children receive worse assessments of their externalizing behaviors (e.g. arguing in class and disrupting instruction) when they have a non-Hispanic white teacher than when they have a Black teacher. Further, these results exist net of school context and the teacher’s own ratings of the behavior of the class overall.”
Other helpful resources:
- A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education, “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” offers detailed data on the demographics of students, teachers and school principals.
- The National Center for Education Statistics provides detailed reports on teacher demographics, including race, age, education level and years of teaching experience.
- The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education monitors who enrolls in and graduates from teacher education programs as well as colleges’ efforts to attract individuals to the field.
- A 2016 paper published in Community College Journal of Research and Practice looks at how community colleges are helping address shortages of minority educators.
- This 2014 report from the national teachers’ union, the National Education Association, explains the organization’s view on faculty diversity.