- A working paper based on an experiment with students in Tennessee, and recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), indicates that black students in grades K-3 who have a teacher of the same race are 7% more likely to graduate high school and 13% more likely to enroll in college than peers who did not have black teacher. Researchers replicated these findings in North Carolina in a study showing that providing black students with at least one black teacher at a young age can reduce the dropout rate by one-third, Inside Higher Ed reports.
- These findings suggest that colleges can increase black enrollment by producing more black teachers to educate more black students in elementary schools. But producing enough black teachers to teach the 15.4% of students in the nation who are black would mean roughly doubling the number of black teachers by adding 256,000 more to the workforce.
- However, diverting black college students from other more lucrative fields may have unintended consequences for the students and the economy because the median earnings for black college graduates who are not teachers is roughly $49,000 while the median earnings for black teachers is $45,000, the article states.
This study adds to the growing body of research that reflect the benefits minority students gain when they are taught by teachers of the same race. Having even one black teacher in elementary school can make an impact on long-term student achievement. Other studies indicate that even the presence of a black educator can make a difference, even if the student is not directly taught by that teacher.
Part of this impact comes from the role model effect. The summary of the NBER study states this as a probable cause for the effect. “We envision role model effects as information provision: black teachers provide a crucial signal that leads black students to update their beliefs about the returns to effort and what educational outcomes are possible," the authors write. "Using testable implications generated by the theory, we provide suggestive evidence that role model effects help to explain why black teachers increase the educational attainment of black students.”
Focus groups related to similar studies have suggested other reasons for what is termed “The Black Teacher Effect.” These suggestions include better trust and rapport with students, the fact that black teachers are less likely to make excuses for students, and an increased sense of obligation by black teachers to educate the whole child.
While there are many reasons to diversify the teaching workforce, teachers of color still represent less than 25% of the total teacher workforce, primarily because not enough teachers of color are available to recruit. Black male teachers are especially rare, especially in the early grades targeted in this study.
To create a better pipeline for teachers of color, some school districts are creating teaching-themed high schools to help prepare students for a career as an educator. Schools can also help by encouraging students of color to pursue teaching careers and helping them find access to colleges and to scholarship opportunities. This answer is not one that will likely have an immediate effect, but as the pipeline grows, schools may see the benefit of increased diversity in the workforce and increased student achievement in the long run.