Does a teacher's race or ethnicity affect his or her skills as a teacher? Students across the U.S. seem to think so. In a recent study, American students overwhelmingly claimed a preference for minority teachers, regardless of their own racial background.
For the study, which was published in the American Educational Research Journal, researchers surveyed the students of 1,700 middle school teachers from more than 300 schools in cities around the country. Each student was asked to complete a 30-question survey evaluating their teachers on everything from how well they manage a classroom to whether or not they motivate students to achieve in school. Students were also asked if their teachers were supportive, if they welcomed the opinions of students, if they made course material interesting, if they used multiple strategies to teach and if they were skilled at making connections within the material as it is taught.
What's more, the researchers compared these results with student scores on standardized tests. In this way, they got a better understanding of not just whether a particular teacher was well-liked, but also whether that well-liked teacher was effective in the classroom.
Researchers found the majority of students — regardless of their own race — had more positive things to say about their teachers of color than they did about their white teachers. Across the board, students showed a preference for Latino teachers over white teachers. And they showed a preference for black teachers versus white teachers in at least three of the seven surveyed categories. The strongest positive connection was reported between Asian-American students and their black teachers.
Researchers controlled for a number of factors to remove any potential biases, such as the students' age, gender, economic status and grade. They also controlled factors such as the teacher's years of experience, gender and even outside scores on teacher effectiveness.
No matter which way they looked at the data, the preferences remained: Students of all ethnicities preferred teachers of color.
The study did not answer the question of why students might prefer minority teachers. But one of the study's authors, Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, an assistant professor of international education at New York University, noted in the report that though he was surprised by the results, he thought maybe teachers of color have a better idea of what it's like to be different, and this may make them more relatable to middle school students who are trying to fit in.
"Kids are struggling with their own identities and how to come to terms with their own difference and development. I think these middle school teachers can use their own identities and experience to bridge that relationship with all types of students," Cherng said in an interview with the Huffington Post.