US schoolchildren have more favourable views of their black and Latino teachers than their white teachers, regardless of their own race and ethnicity, a new study by New York University education researchers has found.
“Minority teachers may be perceived more favorably by minority students because they can serve as role models and are particularly sensitive to the cultural needs of their students,” wrote study co-author Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
“However, in our study, we were surprised to find that minority teachers are not just viewed more highly than white teachers by minority students, but in many cases by white students as well.”
Cherng, who is of Chinese descent, previously taught maths at a middle school in San Francisco, where he had good relationships with a student body that was 85 per cent African-American.
He and his co-author, Steinhardt statistician Peter Halpin, analysed data on 1,680 teachers and their pupils from more than 300 middle and high schools in cities across the US and found that the students broadly preferred their black and Latino teachers to their white teachers.
The data had been collected as part of the Measure of Effective Teaching study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, which surveyed students on their teachers and their educational methods.
Previous studies have shown that so-called “race matching” – whereby, say, black teachers are assigned to teach black students – helps those students to perform better. But Cherng and Halpin’s study found that students’ perceptions of their teachers of colour were more complex.
Latino students, for instance, did not have distinctly favourable views of their Latino teachers, while Asian-American students liked their black teachers even more than black students did. Cherng told NPR he found the results “surprising”, and added: “I thought student awareness of the racial hierarchy would influence the results.”
Cherng said he believes that teachers of colour speak with a greater depth of personal understanding of certain issues such as race and gender, which can make them more effective in the classroom, whatever their subject.
A majority of students in US state-run schools are now non-white, while only 20 per cent of teachers are from a racial or ethnic minority. “These findings underscore the importance of minority teacher recruitment and retention,” Cherng and Halpin wrote in an abstract accompanying the study.