Racism and Education in the United States

In the United States, black pupils have fallen behind their white peers in educational achievements for decades. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, white students graduated from high school at an 87 percent rate in 2014. The percentage was 73 percent for black kids. A similar racial gap can be seen in test results.
Multiple factors, including family and local contexts and school factors unrelated to teachers’ performance, contribute to the achievement gap. However, one issue is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore: significant disparities in the treatment of black kids by teachers and school administrators.
According to research, black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than white students. Black students are less likely to be placed in gifted programs and have lower instructor expectations.

Evidence of Inequality

Several recent studies have shown the disparities between how black and white students spend school days. Teachers, for example, maybe less prone to notice black pupils who perform academically. After adjusting for factors such as students’ standardized test scores, Sean Nicholson-Crotty, Ph.D., of Indiana University, and colleagues discovered that black students were 54 percentage points less likely than white children to be suggested for gifted-education programs, based on national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. However, black pupils were three times more likely than white students to be referred for the programs if their teacher was black.

Teachers’ expectations for pupils may be a factor in such discrepancies. When the same black student is evaluated by both black and white teachers, white teachers are 12 percent less likely to predict the student will finish high school and 30 percent less likely to predict the student will graduate from college, according to Seth Gershenson, Ph.D., of American University, and colleagues.

Teachers’ expectations for themselves are also a factor. In a series of studies, Kent Harber, Ph.D., Rutgers University, evaluated white middle- and high-school teachers in predominantly white, upper-middle-class districts and more diverse, working-class districts in the northeastern United States. When white teachers mark a poorly written essay, they are more evaluative if they believe the author is a white student rather than a black one.

According to a study by Drew Jacoby-Senghor, Ph.D., of Columbia University, and colleagues, white teachers’ implicit prejudices or stereotypes can make them less productive when teaching black students. The researchers called the white college students to prepare and deliver a history lesson to either white or black students.

The barrier between disciplines

Racial bias has an impact on more than how teachers teach. Prejudice also influences whether and how pupils are disciplined for misbehaving.

As per data collected by the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education in 2013–14, black K–12 students are 3.8 times more likely than white students to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.
And, as Gregory points out, this isn’t always because black students are creating more conflicts. Several studies have indicated that black children are still punished unfairly, even taking achievements, socioeconomic status, self-reported behavior, and teacher-reported behavior.

The prejudices that contribute to the discipline divide, on the other hand, can be subtle. Jennifer Eberhardt, Ph.D., and Jason Okonofua, Ph.D. of Stanford University, investigated this in a sample of 57 women teachers of all grade levels from throughout the country, most of whom were white. They asked teachers how they would treat various sorts of misbehaving and discovered that racial stereotypes had no impact on their decisions after a student’s first offense. Teachers were more likely to classify black pupils as troublemakers and propose tougher discipline when they misbehaved for the second time (Psychological Science, 2015). According to the authors, implicit bias may lead teachers to believe that misconduct is part of a pattern of misbehaving.

Unfortunately, even before they reach kindergarten, children might be labeled as troublemakers. According to 2013–14 data from the US Department of Education, black children cover 19 percent of preschool enrolment but 47 percent of out-of-school preschool bans. On the other hand, White children account for 41% of preschool enrollment but just 28% of suspensions.

Bias-reduction interventions

According to research, a few things may be done to start reducing bias in schools. The majority of these approaches have one thing in common: increased teacher assistance.

Gilliam discovered that teachers who had regular contacts with a behavioral consultant had the lowest expulsion rates in his work with preschools. He claims that ending the practice of expulsion will benefit all preschoolers, not just black children who are adversely affected. “Only one type of child does not benefit from preschool programs, and that is the youngster who has been expelled.”

Gregory and her colleagues have created a high school program called My Teaching Partner Secondary, which matches instructors with coaches for two years. Teachers submit videos of their interactions with children in the classroom, and coaches watch them and offer specific tips to assist teachers in engaging better and encourage their pupils.

Nicholson-Crotty and his co-authors recommended recruiting more instructors of color to diversify the teaching force to increase black children’s participation in gifted programs. Meanwhile, they recommend evaluating all students for giftedness rather than depending exclusively on teacher and parent referrals.

Christopher Liang, Ph.D., a counseling psychology professor at Lehigh University, is working on techniques to help principals notice and minimize racial disparities in their schools. “Principals frequently remark that they are aware of equity issues, but they are unsure what to do about it,” he says.

Gregory has noticed an increase in educators’ willingness to discuss the sensitive topic of racial inequality. “These dialogues are coming to the surface more and more,” she says.

However, converting awareness into action will be difficult, particularly in the age of rigorous testing.
“A lot of the ideas to minimize gaps are centered on social-emotional learning, stronger relationships, and community development, which conflicts with the accountability movement and its emphasis on test results,” she says.

Despite this, Gregory sees reasons to be optimistic in the work that teachers perform every day. “There are amazing educators and administrators who are showing us how to engage youngsters and avoid difficulties in their everyday practice,” she says. “As researchers, our job is to find those best practices and figure out how to scale them up.”

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