In the News: Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning?

“According to a significant body of research, Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students,” writes Claire Cain Miller in  The New York Times, yet the teacher work force is overwhelmingly white and female.

Miller looks at research on the difference it makes for students when they have a teacher who shares their race or gender. She explains:

Researchers say it’s not entirely clear why teachers’ gender and race make a difference; it’s likely to be a combination of things. Students tend to be inspired by role models they can relate to. Same-race teachers might be able to present new material in a more culturally relevant way. Also, teachers sometimes treat students differently based on their own backgrounds and stereotypes. Social scientists call this implicit bias, when stereotypes influence people’s thinking, often unconsciously.

A variety of research, for instance, has shown that teachers tend to assess black students differently from white students. Preschool teachers judge black children more harshly for the same behavior. White teachers are less likely than black teachers to assign black students to gifted and talented programs even if their test scores match those of white students. When black students had both a white and black teacher, the black teachers consistently had higher expectations for the children’s potential.

Among the research cited in the piece is a study that appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Education Next: “The Power of Teacher Expectations: How racial bias hinders student attainment,” by Seth Gershenson and Nicholas Papageorge.

Education Next has also published:

Teacher Race and School Discipline: Are students suspended less often when they have a teacher of the same race?” by Constance A. Lindsay and Cassandra M.D. Hart

The Many Ways Teacher Diversity May Benefit Students,” by Anna J. Egalite and Brian Kisida

School Leaders Can Help Reduce Minority Teacher Turnover,” by Anna J. Egalite and Constance A. Lindsay

— Education Next

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College