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What’s Wrong With White Teachers?

By Andre Perry—May 1, 2017

In recent years, an outburst of national studies and exposés has shown that black teachers produce better academic and behavioral outcomes for black students compared to their white counterparts. This has led to numerous articles calling for the recruitment of more black teachers and/or asking where all the black teachers have gone. But the flipside to those studies isn’t making as many headlines. What’s wrong with white teachers? How do we close the black-white teaching performance gap?

Extolling the need for more black teachers is not the same as demanding white teachers be less racist. Naming what’s wrong with white people’s teaching skills must begin with calling out racism. We certainly need more black teachers, but recruitment isn’t a solution for the racism students and teachers of color face everyday.

The research is overwhelming.

Black teachers on average are better for black students (and in some cases for white students too) and white teachers on average are worse for black students. Black primary-school students who are matched to a same-race teacher performed better on standardized tests and face more favorable teacher perceptions according to recent findings from the German economic research group Institute of Labor Economics. Some of the same researchers found in a separate study published by Johns Hopkins University that low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college.

Is it because black teachers are better educators? Not necessarily, although research suggests that may be part of it. A study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that students of color and white students viewed minority teachers more highly than white teachers. But one of the key reasons black students tend to perform better with black teachers has to do with expectations.

Black teachers are more likely to place high-achieving black students in programs for gifted students. Black teachers suspend and expel black students at lower rates. Singling out recruitment recuses our responsibilities to address the racism that afflicts white teachers and creates conditions that push black teachers out of the profession at an alarming rate. Trying to convince more black teachers to enter a profession they’re likely to abandon after a couple years is not even half a solution.

There’s much at stake for white teachers who represent more than 80 percent of the profession. Research shows that “African American students and white students with the same level of prior achievement make comparable academic progress when they are assigned to teachers of comparable effectiveness.” We need the majority of teachers of this country to improve their practice. An effective teacher must be defined as a teacher who is not racist and who acts on the high expectations she has for every child.

The unconscious bias, racial anxieties and stereotypes that contribute to the criminalization of black people, improper medical diagnoses and employment discrimination also lend themselves to lower expectations of black students and no-tolerance discipline policies in schools.

Read more at The Hechinger Report.

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