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What Can Make Black, Female Students Feel Valued? Having Black, Female Teachers.

Students feel happier, more valued, and more motivated when they have a teacher of the same race and gender as them, a new study finds.

There's been quite a bit of research on "teacher match" over the last few years, with most of it coming to the same general conclusion: that there are positive effects when teachers and students are demographically similar. 

Researchers have looked at the impact on concrete measures such as test scores and attendance. Quite a few studies have looked at how race and gender impact teachers' ratings of students. For example, a study published in 2015 found that teachers saw less potential in students who were a different race than themselves. The effect of racial mismatch was particularly negative for black male students.

This study flips the script: It analyzes how classes of students rate their teachers.

Anna J. Egalite, an assistant professor in the college of education at North Carolina State University, and Brian Kisida, an assistant research professor in the economics department at the University of Missouri, looked at data from surveys that were administered to more than 80,000 students as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching study.  

The survey used rating scales to figure out, among other things, if students:

  • Felt cared for by their teacher
  • Were happy in class
  • Were interested in their work
  • Were putting forth their best effort
  • Felt challenged by their teacher
  • Felt supported in trying to understand the material
  • Wanted to go to college because of their teacher

The researchers found that "students who share gender and/or racial characteristics with their teachers have more positive perceptions of their teachers ... compared with unmatched students in the same classroom," says the report, published recently in the journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. "They also report putting forth more personal effort and have higher college aspirations."

Driving Student Achievement Effects?

Being the same gender had a slightly larger and more consistent effect on student attitudes and perceptions than being the same race, Kisida explained in an interview. But the effect was largest when both gender and race were matched.

And generally, having a teacher with matched race and gender had more of an impact on white females, black females, and black males than it did on white males.

Kisida said he believes these effects on attitude and perception may be at the heart of why students tend to do better academically when they have a matched teacher. "There are so many things teachers are doing to mentor these kids they're in charge of eight hours a day," he said. In looking at the previous studies, "I had a feeling these other components were driving the student achievement effects."

The findings are especially noteworthy because the overall number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students has now surpassed the number of white students in public K-12 classrooms. And yet the teaching profession remains overwhelmingly white (and female).

Kisida said the study corroborates the theory that teachers of matched race are able to serve as "cultural translators" for students because of their shared cultural understandings. Students were more likely to say their teacher explained things to them clearly and helped them understand what they were learning if they were the same race.

"Our results offer evidence in support of this theory, and the effects are particularly strong for black students paired with black teachers," the report says.

The means schools may want to consider doing professional development in culturally relevant pedagogy, Kisida said. "That sounds like a policy lever we can implement and use with a potentially positive reaction," he said. 


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