Students of All Races Prefer Teachers of Color, Finds NYU Steinhardt Study


Middle and high school students, regardless of their race and ethnicity, have more favorable perceptions of their Black and Latino teachers than of their White teachers, finds a study by NYU Steinhardt.

Teacher of color at front of the room
Middle and high school students have more favorable perceptions of their Black and Latino teachers, finds NYU Steinhardt study. © monkeybusinessimages/iStock

“Minority teachers may be perceived more favorably by minority students because they can serve as role models and are particularly sensitive to the cultural needs of their students,” said study author Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt. “However, in our study, we were surprised to find that minority teachers are not just viewed more highly than White teachers by minority students, but in many cases by White students as well.”

The findings, published in the latest issue of Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, underscore the importance of having a diverse workforce of teachers.

The demographic divide between teachers and students is of growing public concern. Racial and ethnic minority students make up the majority of students in public schools, especially in urban areas. In contrast, less than 20 percent of teachers are racial or ethnic minorities.

“An overwhelmingly White teacher force is working with a majority non-White student population,” Cherng said.

People typically view the demographic divide through longstanding racial achievement gaps, and scholars have argued that teachers of color may work particularly well with students of color. This concept of race matching – where, for instance, Black students prefer or perform better with Black teachers – has been shown to boost student achievement.

In the new study, the researchers examined whether student perceptions of their teachers varied based on the teachers’ race. Cherng and his coauthor Peter Halpin, assistant professor of applied statistics at NYU Steinhardt, analyzed data from the 2009-2010 school year of the Measure of Effective Teaching study. The researchers focused on data from 1,680 teachers in 200 urban schools, along with their more than 50,000 students in grades six through nine.

The Measure of Effective Teaching study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, used in-depth surveys to gather students’ perceptions of their teachers’ instructional practices. The students were asked questions on seven measures core to their experiences in the classroom, including whether their teacher treats students with respect, explains difficult concepts clearly, makes class interesting, and tries to understand students’ feelings.

The researchers found that students perceived Black and Latino teachers more favorably than White teachers. These patterns remained largely intact, particularly for Latino teachers, even after considering factors such as student performance, teacher working conditions, and other measures of teacher efficacy. Latino teachers were better perceived across all measures, while students perceived Black teachers (more than their White peers) to hold students to high academic standards and support their efforts, to help them organize content, and to explain ideas clearly and provide feedback.

Interestingly, the researchers found mixed evidence of race matching among students of color: Latino students did not have particularly favorable perceptions of Latino teachers, but Black students did have positive perceptions of Black teachers – and Asian American students preferred Black teachers even more than did Black students.

“Our findings underscore the importance of minority teacher recruitment and retention,” Cherng added.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.

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