Previous research demonstrates that students taught by teachers of the same race and ethnicity receive more positive behavioral evaluations than students taught by teachers of a different race/ethnicity.
Many researchers view these findings as evidence that teachers, mainly white teachers, are racially biased due to preferences stemming from racial stereotypes that depict some groups as more academically oriented than others.
Most of this research has been based on comparisons of only black and white students and teachers and does not directly test if other nonwhite students fare better when taught by nonwhite teachers.
Analyses of Asian, black, Hispanic, and white 10th graders in the 2002 Education Longitudinal Study confirm that the effects of mismatch often depend on the racial/ethnic statuses of both the teacher and the student, controlling for a variety of school and student characteristics.
Among students with white teachers, Asian students are usually viewed more positively than white students, while black students are perceived more negatively. White teachers’ perceptions of Hispanic students do not typically differ from those of white students.
Postestimation comparisons of slopes indicate that Asian students benefit (perceptionwise) from having white teachers, but they reveal surprisingly few instances when black students would benefit (again, perceptionwise) from having more nonwhite teachers.
Just Communities is dedicated to teaching educators about unintentional racism, which it says is a key contributor to the persistent achievement gap.
Alejandra is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who speak little English and hold down jobs cleaning houses and working in a hotel. Last year, she graduated from a high school in Santa Barbara, Calif., where the student population is roughly half poor Latino and half affluent white.
Their worlds rarely intersect, with most white students taking high-level courses and most Latinos enrolled in the general-ed classes. But during her high school years, Alejandra was the exception.
She was the only Latino student with immigrant parents enrolled in a college-level program known as International Baccalaureate studies. Many of the fellow students came from the Santa Barbara County community of Montecito, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the nation (Oprah Winfrey has a home there). It was often an uncomfortable experience.
Alejandra finished high school with a 3.3 GPA — no small feat given her background and the rigorous program from which she graduated.
Nonetheless, when it came time to talk to her guidance counselor about future plans, the counselor dissuaded Alejandra from pursuing her dream to attend a four-year university. The counselor instead advised her to go to the local community college. Alejandra complied, and today is a student at Santa Barbara City College.
The experience, she said, filled her with self-doubt.
“I thought, maybe I’m not as good as I think I am,” she told Miller-McCune.com.
Battling Subtle Messages
Though racism in the public education system no longer takes the overt form of segregated schools, white students spitting on black students with impunity or National Guardsmen with rifles blocking the entrance to a school, several nonprofit organizations around the country focusing on racial justice in public schools say it’s still ubiquitous.
Although the counselor no doubt had Alejandra’s best interests in mind, the decision to steer her away from a four-year university was a classic example of unintentional racism, said Jarrod Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities Central Coast, a nonprofit based in Santa Barbara and dedicated to dismantling institutional racism in schools. (The group was founded in 2001 as The National Conference for Community and Justice of California’s Central Coast, which in turn had its roots in the venerable National Conference of Christians and Jews.)
“Most of the racism in schools today is not born out of intense hate and does not come from this place of wanting the worst for students of color,” he said. “It’s subtle.”
The organization spends much of its time informing educators about the everyday red flags that may be invisible to them, but glaringly obvious to many minority students and teachers of color.
A well-meaning high school counselor, for instance, may learn the names of all her white students, but barely any of her Latino pupils. A white teacher may call on students of color only for the easy questions. A teacher may embarrass a student of Korean descent by assuming the student knows how to pronounce a word in Vietnamese.