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Topic: Having Just One Black Teacher Can Keep Black Kids In School
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Having Just One Black Teacher Can Keep Black Kids In School
Posted: Jul 20, 2017 6:00 PM
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From npr, April 10, 2017. SEE
Having Just One Black Teacher Can Keep Black Kids In School

By Anya Kamanetz

How important is it to have a role model?

A new working paper puts some numbers to that question.

Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced
low-income black boys' probability of dropping out of high school by
39 percent, the study found.

And by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls,
who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations
of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to
ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.

The study is big. The authors, Seth Gershenson and Constance A.
Lindsay of American University, Cassandra M.D. Hart of U.C. Davis and
Nicholas Papageorge at Johns Hopkins, looked at long-term records for
more than 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina.

Then the researchers checked their conclusions by looking at students
in a second state, Tennessee, who were randomly assigned to certain

There they found that not only did the black students assigned to
black teachers graduate high school at higher rates, they also were
more likely to take a college entrance exam. "The results line up
strikingly well," says Papageorge.

This paper is another piece of social science evidence reinforcing
the case for having more teachers of color and for training teachers
to be more culturally responsive. We've reported on instances of
implicit bias by white teachers, even toward preschool students, that
black students are more often recommended for gifted programs by
teachers of color and that students of all races prefer teachers of
color. [SEE

And this isn't news to many African-American families who already
feel strongly that their children need role models in their
education. Khalilah Harris has experienced the issue both as a
policymaker and as a mother of three daughters. She was the Deputy
Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for
African Americans under the Obama administration. She recently
transferred her two older daughters, 12 and 14, to a progressive
private school to expose them to more diverse teachers and curriculum.

"My youngest, who is 7, goes to supposedly the best public school in
Baltimore City, but there is not any teacher of color there, and that
is deplorable," she says. "If you grow up in a world that does not
reflect your essence as valuable from birth, the fact that you don't
have a teacher ... who looks like you, will cause cognitive

Papageorge says the "role model effect" that Harris describes is
quantifiable. "Sometimes when I talk about expectations, people think
I'm talking about magic fairy dust," he says, "but in economics, it's
one of the biggest things that determine the kinds of investments
people make." In other words, whether it's money you put toward a
mutual fund, or time and energy you spend on your education, how much
you expect to get out can determine how much you put in.

If a low-income black boy never sees anyone in the classroom who
looks like him, Papageorge says he might conclude, "'Hey, college is
just not for me'. And then why would you work hard in school?"

Yolanda Coles Jones of Charlottesville, Va., says she and her husband
avoided the school system altogether. They homeschool their four
children, two girls who are 9 and 7, and 4-year-old twin boys. She
says they didn't see their local public or private schools
"understanding the needed emphasis on black children seeing black
faces." The family is part of a homeschooling co-op called Community
Roots, that, Coles Jones says, was founded "to have an atmosphere
that is safe for children of color to be in."

In future research, Papageorge hopes to replicate the study and
unpack the powerful and long-lasting effects observed. But based on
the evidence he already has, he has an immediate policy
recommendation. Having just one black teacher in his study made all
the difference to students; having two or three didn't increase the
effect significantly. Therefore, schools could work to change student
groupings so that every black student gets at least one black teacher
by the end of elementary school.

"Should we hire more black teachers?" he asks. "Yeah, probably, but
it requires more black college graduates ... We could push around
rosters tomorrow, change the way we assign kids, and have some
effects next school year, not 10 years from now."
SIDEBAR: Mentor and Mirror, LA Johnson/NPR
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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