Schools must 'urgently' hire more minority teachers to give students fairer perception of discipline, say American researchers

Legitimacy of public institutions 'enhanced' when staff look like the student population, says professor

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Schools urgently need to hire more ethnic minority teachers because doing so will give students more positive attitudes and higher perceptions of fairness in discipline, according to a new study.

Researchers from the US stressed how the urgency is greater in America after recent protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York saw blacks be killed during encounters with police officers, said the co-author of the study.

Professor Don Haider-Markel, from The University of Kansas, described how the findings provide first-hand support for the arguments of some political theorists that the legitimacy of public institutions is enhanced when they are staffed by people who look like the student population.

He also said that, because public schools provide young people with their first real interaction with government, it is important to study these environments and their impact on perceptions.

Professor Haider-Markel added: “Schools teach young people about democracy and being a citizen directly, but schools, through their treatment of students, also teach students how the government views them as citizens.

“Students who do not perceive fair treatment might take away the message that the government will not be fair or treat everyone equally.”

The academic also believes such a message might lay the foundation for making a young person less likely to participate in civil society through voting, attending public meetings or other means.

The research was undertaken after the federal government found black students were three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled, with the protests earlier this year highlighting the disproportionate harsh treatment of African-Americans within the criminal justice system.

High levels of distrust African-Americans have for police and political institutions in general – and the lack of diversity in public institutions – also contributed to the research, according to the professors.

Along with two University of Missouri lecturers, the findings in the paper Race, Gender, and Symbolic Representation in American Schools will be presented this week at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco.