Studies Provide Further Proof that African American Students Benefit from Having Black Teachers

African American students who have even just one or two black teachers in elementary school are significantly more likely to enroll in college, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and American University. Their findings build on research they conducted in 2017 which found that the likelihood of low-income African American students dropping out of high school decreases by 29 percent if they have just one African American teacher in grades three through five.

Published in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) on Nov. 12, the study is based on longitudinal data tracking students of color in both Tennessee and North Carolina. Researchers found that students in both states who had one black teacher by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, and those who had two African American teachers by that time were 32 percent more likely to pursue postsecondary education.

The same team of researchers also published a second, related study titled Teacher Expectations Matter. It provides concrete evidence regarding the commonsense notion that a teacher’s expectations significantly affect their students’ educational outcomes. It goes on to show that African American teachers typically have higher expectations of black students than white teachers.

In reaching this conclusion, researchers studied data from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, which tracks educational outcomes for thousands of 10th grade students and compares them with their math and reading teachers’ predictions about their future educational attainment. According to the study, when a teacher expressed optimism about a student’s future, that student reported spending more time on homework and also had a higher GPA in 12th grade. White teachers repeatedly reported lower expectations for African American students than white students, the study found.

According to researchers, both studies serve as evidence that African American teachers can have a profound impact on their students of color. They also claim that these educators are more adept at teaching black students than white teachers and that they serve as valuable role models for these students.

Currently, only 7 percent of U.S. teachers are black, as opposed to approximately 15 percent of K-12 students. Significantly increasing the number of these educators would pose a significant challenge, say researchers. One reason is that the average African American worker earns a higher salary than the typical black teacher.

Instead of recruiting more educators of color, experts suggest that schools broaden their roles so that they are able to reach as many black students as possible. They also encourage colleges of education to continue to provide implicit bias and cultural competency training to white teachers to help them develop higher expectations for African Americans and more culturally sensitive teaching practices.