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Study: With Just One Black Teacher, Black Students Much More Likely to Graduate High School

Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate.
(Photo by Sturti/Creatives/Getty Images).

The chances that low-income Black boys will drop out of school decrease significantly when they have at least one Black teacher in the classroom, according to a new study.

A recent report from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics examining the long-term impact of students taught by teachers of the same race found that poor Black students who have one or more Black teachers in elementary school are much more likely to graduate high school and consider going to college. Having at least one educator of the same race in third through fifth grades diminishes Black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent.

The impact of having an African-American teacher in the classroom is even greater for low-income Black boys, as their risk of dropping out of school decreases by a whopping 39 percent.

“Black students matched to black teachers have been shown to have higher test scores, but we wanted to know if these student-teacher racial matches had longer-lasting benefits,” said Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University, a co-author of the study. “We found the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ ”

“We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys,” Papageorge added. “It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”

Researchers examined nearly 100,000 Black students who enrolled in third grade at North Carolina Public Schools between 2001 and 2005. What they found was that 13 percent of these students dropped out of high school, while about half graduated but had no plans to attend college.

However, low-income students who were assigned to at least one Black teacher in the third, fourth or fifth grades were not only less likely to quit school, but 18 percent more likely to consider attending college after graduation, the study found. Poor Black boys who received free or reduced lunch through elementary school were also 29 percent more likely to express interest in college.

Researchers found that having more than one Black teacher improved educational outcomes for these students, but not significantly more than being taught by just one Black teacher. To solidify their findings, they replicated the study by looking at African-American students in Tennessee who entered kindergarten in the late ’80s. They discovered that students there who had at least one Black teacher in kindergarten through third grade were 15 percent less likely to quit school.

The IZA Institute’s research is the first of its kind to how long-term positive effects of Black students being taught by Black teachers. This “race match effect,” also known as the “role model effect” helps explain why researchers feel that a classroom stint with a Black teacher could be so beneficial for young Black students in the long run.

The most promising part of the research, Papageorge said, is that the findings can be easily implemented by school policymakers to significantly improve a student’s chance at success.

The fact that Black students are largely driven by just one Black teacher “means we can implement this really quickly because it doesn’t require massive changes in hiring policies,” he said. “What I like about our finding is that we can take the teaching force we have today, and we can creatively and thoughtfully reassign students so that they face a Black teacher. I think we can literally start doing that today.”


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