Students Generally Felt More Supported and Motivated By Teachers of Color

According to a study, students gave teachers of color higher marks and felt more supported and motivated by them.

The study was conducted by New York University professors and it concluded that by and large, students showed a genuine preference towards Black and Latino teachers, as compared to white teachers. Subjects involved in the study were middle school students and data from a 2009-2010 survey by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was used, along with the University’s own statistical analysis to arrive at the results.

The results were a little surprising for researchers as the general belief seemed to be that students would find it easier to relate to white teachers. Students, including white students, rated Black and Latino teachers better in regards to their ability to challenge and care for them, as compared to white teachers.

The Original Data Used

The survey conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released its final report on January 8th, 2013 titled ‘The Measures of Effective Teaching’ (MET). It was a three-year study aimed at understanding and identifying ways to promote the best teaching practices in the world of education. The measures it used to identify great teaching habits and techniques included classroom observations, student surveys and student achievements. The findings were intended to serve as assistance for school districts that were trying to implement new development and evaluation systems for teachers. The project was financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and was finished with collaboration between several independent research teams, along with 3,000 teacher volunteers from seven different public school districts across the US. The schools included were the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Dallas Independent Schools, the Hillsborough County Public Schools, the Pittsburg Public Schools, the Memphis Public Schools, the New York City Schools and the Denver Public Schools.

Findings of the MET Project

The main results that the extensive project arrived at included the following:

  • It is possible to develop measures that can help categorize great teaching. Measuring great teaching sounds like a very objective concern. This study found that you can actually use a combination of surveys to establish great teaching standards.
  • The report talks about various trade-offs in determining teacher quality when schools combine different measures such as student gains, student surveys and classroom observations. The report shows that a balanced approach which incorporates two of these measures is less likely to fluctuate from year to year and is more likely to relate teachers with better outcomes on assessments.
  • The report also deals with ways to achieve reliable classroom observations and recommends averaging observations from more than one observer to get a better picture.

The research work done under the MET project provided useful insights into the teaching process and went on to establish that surveying student perceptions of their classroom can help increase teacher effectiveness in the long run.

The Minority Teachers Survey

Building upon the results of the above study, the minority teachers’ survey aimed to establish that students, regardless of their race, might show a great degree of preference to teachers of color or of a different race. The survey used techniques outlined in the MET study to gather data that would effectively portray the true picture. It included more than 50,000 students from 200 different schools ranging from grades six to nine and asked them to rate their teachers on different measures of effectiveness from 1 to 5. They were asked questions like whether they thought their teachers were caring enough when dealing with them or not, and if the teachers seemed to notice if something was troubling them. Researchers had already collected data regarding the races of these teachers in question. Even after taking into account matters such as working conditions of the teachers and student academic performance, students generally gave teachers of color better ratings in these areas, as compared to white teachers.

Another noticeable trend was that students did not necessarily rate teachers of their own ethnicity or race higher. For instance, Latino students did not give better marks to Latino teachers and Asian students gave black teachers better marks than black students themselves.

What the Results Mean?

According to the study’s author, Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, the results of the study emphasize the importance of recruiting teachers of different color, race or ethnicity, who he believes are still largely underrepresented in the education industry. According to 2013-2014 data, most students entering the US K-12 schools are not white; however, only 17% of the teachers happen to be of color. This difference needs to be reconciled to improve the overall effectiveness of teaching for students.

The results of the study can be explained by several theories. For instance, students may give higher marks to teachers of color because these teachers have a better understanding of what it feels like to be different. When growing up, most students are going through changes that they cannot exactly explain, which make them feel different from the crowd. Middle school is the time when students are struggling with developing their own identities and how to overcome their own differences to fit into the cycle of traditional development. Teachers of color might be able to understand this feeling better and may be more helpful in assisting students through this tough phase in their lives.

The author of this study, Cherng, relates his own experience in this regard to make matters clear. He taught a class that had all black kids. Although he himself is Chinese-American, he found it to be quite easy to talk to his students about race.

The relatability aspect defined by this study is something that can help school systems improve on the quality and effectiveness of teaching for all their students. The preference of minority teachers by all students is certainly an interesting discovery that can lead to a multitude of useful research projects in the future.


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