Study Finds Race Biases Teachers' Expectations for Students
When a black teacher and a white teacher evaluate the same black student, the white teacher is about 30% less likely to predict the student will complete a four-year college degree, the study found. White teachers are also 12% less likely to expect their black students will graduate high school.
"What we find is that white teachers and black teachers systematically disagree about the exact same student," says coauthor Nicholas Papageorge, an economist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University. "One of them has to be wrong."
The study, forthcoming in the journal Economics of Education Review, and now available online, suggests that the more modest expectations of some teachers could become self-fulfilling prophecies. These low expectations could affect the performance of students, particularly disadvantaged ones who lack access to role models who could counteract a teacher's low expectations, Papageorge says.
"If I'm a teacher and decide that a student isn't any good, I may be communicating that to the student," Papageorge says. "A teacher telling a student they're not smart will weigh heavily on how that student feels about their future and perhaps the effort they put into doing well in school."
The findings also likely apply beyond the education system, the researchers say — leading to racial biases in the workplace, the service industry and the criminal justice system.
The researchers analyzed data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, an ongoing study following 8,400 10th grade public school students. That survey asked two different teachers, who each taught a particular student in either math or reading, to predict how far that one student would go in school. With white students, the ratings from both teachers tended to be the same. But with black students, boys in particular, there were big differences — the white teachers had much lower expectations than black teachers for how far the black students would go in school.
The study found:
Papageorge's coauthors are Seth Gershenson, an assistant professor of public policy at American University, and Stephen B. Holt, a doctoral student at American University.
"While the evidence of systematic racial bias in teachers' expectations uncovered in the current study are certainly troubling and provocative, they also raise a host of related policy-relevant questions that our research team plans to address in the near future," Gershenson says. "For example, we are currently studying the impact of these biased expectations on students' long-run outcomes, such as educational attainment, labor market success and interaction with the criminal justice system."