Teachers always have their favorite students. But when does this favoritism turn into bias?
Hi guys, Lissette here for DNews. Teachers are an important part of our learning and development.
I still remember every single one of my elementary school teachers -
the ones I thought were good as well as the ones I thought were not so good. But what did they think of me?
Or you? How did that affect our learning?
Well, a recent study, published in the Journal Economics of Education Review.
Looked at data from thousands of students across the US and their teachers to see where race and gender fall into the equation.
In the study, different teachers were asked to rate the same 10th grade student
and predict his or her highest level of educational attainment.
The researchers found that predictions varied based on the gender and race of both the student and teacher.
In general, the expectations of black teachers for black students were 30 to 40 percent higher than those held by non-black teachers.
In other words, they believed black students
would do far better. To illustrate, 37 percent of black teachers, when asked about a black student,
let’s call her Samantha, thought she would obtain a four year college degree.
In contrast, only 28% of white teachers thought she would do so. Now if she were a Samuel instead,
this effect would be even greater. White male teachers, in particular,
have very low expectations of black boys. They don’t believe they’ll do as well.
The problem is… that what teachers believe has a serious impact on student outcomes.
We know from this and other studies that expectations matter. In this particular study,
the researchers found black students who had a non-black teacher in a specific subject in 10th grade
were less likely to pursue that subject later in their schooling. But it’s more than just subject
area preferences. It influences how well students do in school and to some degree
the quality of their education.
In the infamous Pygmalion In The Classroom study from the 1960s, researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson conducted an experiment with elementary children in public school.
At the beginning of the school year, the researchers gave all students an IQ test as a baseline.
They then told teachers, erroneously, that a certain subset of those students would
show an “intellectual growth spurt” over the course of that year. This was a lie.
In fact, the students were chosen at random. But, that suggestion to teachers had a measurable
effect: by the end of the year, the students who were labeled as growth spurt students
actually did perform better than the rest of their classmates. On average,
they gained 3.8 IQ points more.
And, these differences were even greater for younger children. Looking at first grade students only,
the difference was 15.4 IQ points. This suggests that there is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy happening.
Teachers who believe their students will do well are more likely to act
in ways that will lead to that happening. Since the 60s, other studies have dug in to
try to figure out what exactly teachers might be doing that leads to this bias. And, it looks like
it could be things like - giving children they believe are smart more time to answer questions when called on,
giving them more challenging questions, or recommending them
for gifted and talented programs.
Teacher expectations are powerful. So much so, that today, we largely consider it unethical
to label students the way we did in the Pygmalion study. It wouldn’t be right to knowingly put some students at a disadvantage.
Which is why labels like race and gender are so
tricky in a classroom. These labels don’t require a researcher: Teachers can automatically
and involuntarily apply them to students. So, it's especially important to grapple with
and examine the expectations attached to them.
For a deeper dive into race itself -
what it really is and what it means, check out this episode on The Science of Racism.
In terms of biology, race doesn't exist. And let's not to say race isn't real. Though it's important to understand that race is a cultural construct, like human created this, and has nothing to do with our biology.
Do you have an experience where you felt your teacher was biased against you? Or maybe
favored you in some way? Share your thoughts in the comments and remember
to subscribe so you never miss an episode of DNews. Thanks for watching.