It has been a matter of debate in education circles whether Black students do better in school when they have Black teachers. While some researchers have claimed they failed to see a statistically significant difference in student performance, a new study analyzing several million students in Florida found that Black, white and Asian students do slightly better in school during years when they share their classroom educator’s race — with low-performing Black and white students showing the most benefit.
While the study is not definitive because it looked at just one state, the findings should go far in answering the question of whether teacher race matters. Though it was just one state, the sample size was a rather large nearly 3 million students and their performance was analyzed over a seven-year period.
The findings are especially important as the nation in the 2014-15 school year faces the first incoming class where the majority of students are students of color — while an estimated 80 percent of the teachers are white women.
For the Black community, the challenge looms especially large as the community in recent years has struggled to attract top students into the education field.
In the study, which will be released in the April issue of the Economics of Education Review, researchers focused on students’ statewide test scores between the third through 10th grades. They weighed the data to make sure the results weren’t influenced by such factors as teacher quality and student poverty level.
The researchers found that Black and white students have better reading scores on the state test when they are taught by teachers who look like them. In addition, Black, white and Asian/Pacific Island students have higher math scores when taught by teachers who look like them.
The researchers had difficulty analyzing data for Hispanic students because the Spanish-speaking population in Florida is so diverse, with some students identifying themselves as Caribbean, while others called themselves Mexican, South American or Central American.
Anna Egalite, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, told The Huffington Post the results reveal how imperative it is for the nation to diversify the teacher workforce.
“One group looks like most teachers right now and it’s not the lowest-performing group. It would do a world of good to attract talented minority teachers,” Egalite said. “The takeaway is to recruit more diverse teachers but not in a quality-blind way.”
Interestingly, researchers found that while being taught by a nonwhite teacher helps students from that teacher’s race, it doesn’t negatively affect the performance of white students.