Recently, in Education Week, Madeline Will summarized a new study from Johns Hopkins University that finds that if a Black student has just one or two Black teachers in elementary school, that student is significantly more likely to enroll in college.
Black students who had just one Black teacher by 3rd grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college, while those who had two Black teachers were 32 percent more likely, the study found. These findings are a continuation of the 2017 study that found that a low-income Black student’s probability of dropping out of high school is reduced by 29 percent if he or she has one Black teacher in grades 3-5.
The new study was released in conjunction with another study (from much of the same team of researchers), finding that teachers’ beliefs about a student’s college potential can become self-fulfilling prophecies. The study found that Black teachers are more likely than white teachers to have higher expectations for Black students. Both studies were published as working papers by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Why do Black teachers matter so much for Black students’ college enrollment? The researchers tested two theories—that Black teachers are more skilled than their white counterparts at instructing Black students, and that Black teachers serve as role models for their Black students.
Scholars say that Black teachers often engage in culturally relevant teaching, which is beneficial to students of color. That might include using cultural references in instruction or showcasing pride in one’s racial identity and a sense of affiliation with the larger Black community.
Black teachers also serve as “examples to these kids of what the Black middle class looks like,” Papageorge said.
The study on teachers’ expectations looked at math and reading teachers’ predictions about how far students would go in school. Researchers found that when a Black teacher and a white teacher predict the outcomes of the same Black student, the Black teacher typically has higher expectations for the student.