Educators often discuss the power of expectations, and the consensus is that if adults expect students to do well, then in many cases, the students will rise to higher levels. If the adults around the young people expect them to fail, that can also become a "self-fulfilling prophecy," writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
Now there is a study that suggests that how teachers see the potential for success in their students is affected by the ethnicity of the student. As a result, it may be that teachers' biases are keeping black students from doing as well as they might, which could also be contributing to the nation's growing achievement gap.
The study showed that when a non-black teacher and a black teacher assess the same student who is black, the white teacher is less likely by 30% to assume that the student would graduate from a four-year college. The white teachers were also 40% less likely to believe the student would graduate from high school. When it came to black male students, the disparity becomes even greater.
"What we find is that white teachers and black teachers systematically disagree about the exact same student," Nicholas Papageorge, a Johns Hopkins economist and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The study from Johns Hopkins and American University will be published in the Economics of Education Review.
The data came from the 2002 Education Longitudinal Study conducted by the statistics and research portion of the US Education Department, which observed over 8,000 10th-grade students. Researchers asked reading and math teachers of sophomores in high school to estimate what academic level each of their students would attain.
The results found that teachers are seeing and treating their students differently based on race. For example, black students who are taught by white teachers are less likely to be chosen for gifted programs than black pupils taught by black educators.
Papageorge says this research is the first step in a broader research project to discover how teacher expectations affect student outcomes, writes Rebecca Klein of The Huffington Post. So far, there is no causation shown between teacher expectations and students' outcomes. The statistics suggest a systemic bias, says Papageorge. Co-author Seth Gershenson, an American University assistant professor of public policy, stated:
"While the evidence of systematic racial bias â¦ is certainly troubling and provocative, they also raise a host of related policy-relevant questions that our research team plans to address in the near future â¦ we are currently studying the impact of these biased expectations on students' long-run outcomes, such as educational attainment, labour market success and interaction with the criminal justice system."
The online release for the research discloses findings from the study:
Non-black teachers were 12% more likely than black teachers to believe that black students would not receive a high school diploma.
Non-black teachers were 12% less likely to predict that black student would complete a four-year college. If the teacher was a different gender than the student, expectations dropped lower. The decline for black boys descended even more, especially if their math teacher was making the prediction.
Non-black teachers were 5% more likely to predict that black male students would not graduate from high school than black girls.
Black female teachers were the most of any demographic group to predict their black male students would finish high school. They were 20% less likely than white teachers to forecast their student would not get a diploma. They were 30% less likely to say that than black male teachers.
White male teachers were 10 to 20% more likely to have low expectations for their female students of any race.
Math teachers of any race were much more likely to have low expectations for their female students.
For black students, particularly black males, having a non-black teacher in one of their sophomore year subjects caused them to be significantly less likely to follow that subject area by taking similar courses.
The researchers remarked that this discovery suggests that biased expectations by instructors create long-term effects on student futures.