Study: Students of All Races Favor Teachers of Color

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A new study analyzing student survey data of their classroom teachers found that all students, on average, had more favorable impressions of black and Latino teachers compared to white teachers.

Researchers Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter Halpin, both from NYU Steinhardt, examined data from the Measures of Effective Teaching database, known as the MET study. The data set included student surveys from six different school districts, including New York City, asking students questions like: "How well does the teacher motivate students to high academic standards?" and "How well does the teacher welcome the opinions of students?"

The researchers included survey data from approximately 50,000 sixth through ninth-grade students covering the 2009-2010 school year. 

The findings, showing that even white students gave more favorable responses for teachers of color, came as a surprise to Cherng, the lead author of the study and a former middle-school teacher. But he cautioned that the findings were not a condemnation of white teachers.

"This study should give all of us hope," he said. "All kids are drawn to some quality of Latino and black teachers, on average. And we can actually figure out what Latino and black teachers are doing."

The results come during a time of increased focus on the racial and ethnic divide between teachers and the students in their classrooms. In New York City, approximately 40 percent of teachers are non-white in a public school system where 85 percent of students are non-white.

The city launched a campaign to hire more male teachers of color. There is also a push to increase teachers' cultural competence

Cherng suggested that black and Latino teachers may indeed bring more cultural awareness to classrooms and can therefore build rapport with students. But whatever the underlying reasons, student perceptions of teachers affect success in the classroom, previous research has shown, and there needs to be a greater understanding of those perceptions.

"What’s lacking in a lot of the research on diversity and teacher recruitment is the student’s voice," he said.

The study findings are published today in the journal Educational Researcher. The six school districts involved were Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Dallas, Denver, Hillsborough County, Memphis and New York City.