Efforts to match Black and Hispanic students with teachers of their same race or ethnicity have shown positive outcomes for students. Less is known about the underlying mechanisms that may be driving these favorable results. A recent analysis by David Blazar from the University of Maryland College Park is only the second randomized experimental study to examine the effects of teachers of color on student outcomes (the first was conducted by Tom Dee in 2004).
Blazar’s sample includes four anonymous school districts on the east coast where seventy-one fourth and fifth grade teachers were randomly assigned to class rosters within schools, along with extensive student and teacher survey and classroom observation data from 2010 through 2019. The sample matched the characteristics of teachers and students across the participating districts, as well as those of urban districts in the U.S. more broadly. Thirty-percent of the experimental sample comprised teachers of color, including 23 percent Black teachers, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent Hispanic. The random assignment of teachers to classes in upper-elementary schools is used to examine both short- and longer-run outcomes, including social-emotional development (such as self-efficacy and self-regulation), test scores, absences, and suspensions well into students’ high school years.
Blazar’s topline findings echo previous studies: Compared to their White colleagues, teachers of color have large and lasting effects on the social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes of their students. More specifically, random assignment to a teacher of color results in improved self-efficacy and classroom engagement (upwards of 0.45 standard deviation), end-of-year math and English language arts test scores (upwards of 0.26 SD), and school attendance (reductions in chronic absenteeism of 4 percentage points, representing a 60 percent decrease) while students are in elementary school. These effects accrued to all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Short-term effects on test scores and chronic absenteeism persist at similar magnitudes up to six years later when students are in high school (roughly 0.2 SD on test scores, and a 42 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism). Even more interesting, the effects of teachers of color on self-efficacy extend not just to students of color, but also to their White peers. This finding differs from other literature indicating that teachers of color generally have no impact—either positive or negative—on the test scores and school behaviors of White students, compared to having a White teacher.
Specifically for behavioral outcomes, the study finds that random assignment to a teacher of color versus a White teacher in the fourth or fifth grade results in an 8-percentage-point decrease in the probability of being chronically absent in high school. Suspension rates, though, tend to be higher both for White students and students of color assigned to a teacher of color, at least in the later elementary years. So White students are suspended more frequently when their randomly-assigned teacher is a teacher of color versus a White teacher. But equally interesting, teachers of color improve the self-efficacy of White students relative to White students who have a White teacher.
Looking at mechanisms, the study finds that the average effects of teachers of color on student outcomes are explained in part by specific mindsets and practices of teachers of color versus White teachers. According to the teacher survey and observation results, teachers of color are more likely than their White colleagues to view student intelligence as malleable versus fixed, to build interpersonal relationships with students and their families, to spend more time planning for instruction and differentiating pedagogical approaches to individual students’ needs, and to lead well-organized classrooms. Differences are as large as 0.7 SD. Blazar takes all this to mean that teachers of color are more “culturally responsive teachers,” even though culturally responsive teaching is usually understood to mean that students’ cultures, languages, and life experiences are connected with what they learn in school. So the survey responses don’t align well with that definition. However, his statement that “these patterns indicate that much of the effect of teachers of color on student outcomes runs through the intra- and interpersonal skills that teachers of color possess” resonates as truer.
Still, in none of Blazar’s models is the average effect of teachers of color on student outcomes fully explained by the factors that he’s able to test. So other unmeasured mechanisms are at play. A popular theory—untested here—is that seeing role models who look like students of color in positions of power helps explain the beneficial effects. That makes sense, too. Whatever the additional mechanisms at play, the sooner that they can be found and validated, the better for all students.
SOURCE: David Blazar, “Teachers of Color, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Student Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from the Random Assignment of Teachers to Classes,” Annenberg Institute at Brown University (December 2021).