The Benefits of Minority Teachers in the Classroom

Anna Egalite & Brian Kisida, Real Clear Education, March 6, 2015

{snip} Racial representation in the classroom is of particular interest to education practitioners, policymakers, and parents. Many believe that minority teachers are best situated to counter negative stereotypes and to serve as role-models, mentors, or cultural-translators for students of color. Moreover, teachers who can relate to their students’ cultural background should be less likely to hold biased subjective views of their academic abilities.

In 2014, ethnic minorities constituted a majority of America’s public school students for the first time, with projections showing that the proportion of minority students will continue to grow for years to come. Yet minority student enrollment is not matched by similar demographic representation among teachers–nearly 82% of public school teachers are white. On average, Black and Hispanic students are two to three times more common than Black and Hispanic teachers. {snip}


We recently examined the effect of minority teachers on student achievement, and we find that minority students tend to do better with minority teachers. In a recently published study in Economics of Education Review, we follow the trajectories of 2.9 million public school students in Florida over a seven-year time period and examine whether their test scores change in response to their teacher assignment. For all students, we compared their standardized test scores in years when they had a teacher of the same ethnicity to school years when they did not. Because of the detailed data we had access to, we were able to account for lots of other factors that might explain differences in student achievement–things like poverty status, English language proficiency, gender, average teacher quality, and prior year test scores. Our findings include:

— Black, white, and Asian students benefit from being assigned to a teacher that looks like them. Their test scores go up in years when their teacher shares their ethnicity, compared to years when their teacher has a different ethnicity.

— Effects are generally largest for elementary-aged students and students who are lower-performing.

— Elementary-aged Black students seem to particularly benefit from demographically-similar teachers.

Given these findings, it is certainly possible that the “diversity gap” is a contributing factor to the achievement gap, and efforts to recruit minority teachers may be part of the solution.


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