Teacher bias and youth of color expectations and achievement

Posted by New York University on May 29, 2017

If they think I can: Teacher bias and youth of color expectations and achievement

For young people, academic expectations and achievement are more than measures of academic outcomes, but reflect facets of hope in their futures. A large body of literature has focused on the academic expectations and performance of racial/ethnic students of color, particularly given persistent achievement gaps. One key social actor that plays a prominent role in the formation of student expectations and academic achievement is the classroom teacher. Scholars argue that teacher support, in the form of beliefs about students’ academic abilities, is crucial (Diamond et al., 2004 ; Weinstein, 2002). Prior work finds that students who report having teachers who believe in them academically are more successful. Researchers also argue that the boost in academic outcomes from supportive teachers is stronger for youth of color, although there are few studies that test this argument.

A related body of research on teacher support asks whether teachers’ perceptions of student abilities are the same for students of color and White youth Overall, findings do not show clear evidence of teacher bias or whether bias is linked with academic outcomes. One reason for mixed findings may be that prior studies do not consider that racial stereotypes are specific to certain academic subjects (Jussim and Harber, 2005 ; Tenenbaum and Ruck, 2007). Moreover, few studies link evidence of bias – distinct from research on teacher perceptions – to outcomes, and in particular, outcomes that are likely shaped by teacher perceptions, such as student expectations and GPA. Therefore, given the assumption that teacher perceptions are shaped by the race/ethnicity of their students, it may be the case that less positive perceptions of certain racial groups perpetuate and exacerbate longstanding social inequalities. Addressing these biases, through better teacher preparation programs or professional development, may help eliminate these achievement differences.


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