Why The U.S. Needs More Minority Teachers

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When it comes to achievement, does it matter if a student and a teacher are the same race? And if so, how much? That’s the essential question posed by a trio of economists in a new working paper, the first to test whether minority instructors have a positive effect on the academic achievement of minority students at the college level.

Their results indicate an emphatic yes, and may hold a partial solution (although a tricky one to enact) to one of the most persistent and vexing problems facing the U.S. education system: the achievement gap between non-minority and minority students. Less than than one-fifth of African-Americans, and less than one-eighth of Latinos between 25 and 29 years-old have a college degree. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 9.6% of full-time instructional faculty at U.S. colleges are black, Latino or Native American. And yet, these groups make up a third of the college-age population.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper uses detailed administrative data from one of the largest community colleges in the United States to quantify the extent to which academic performance depends on students being of similar race or ethnicity to their instructors. To address the concern of endogenous sorting, we use both student and classroom fixed effects and focus on those with limited course enrollment options. We also compare sensitivity in the results from using within versus across section instructor type variation. Given the computational complexity of the 2-way fixed effects model with a large set of fixed effects we rely on numerical algorithms that exploit the particular structure of the model’s normal equations. We find that the performance gap in terms of class dropout and pass rates between white and minority students falls by roughly half when taught by a minority instructor. In models that allow for a full set of ethnic and racial interactions between students and instructors, we find African-American students perform particularly better when taught by African-American instructors.

From a sample of 30,000 students in nearly 21,000 classes, the authors find that the minority achievement gap shrinks in classes taken with underrepresented minority instructors. While minority students are overall more likely to drop a course, less likely to pass a course, and less likely to have a grade of at least a B, these gaps decrease by 2.9 percentage points, 2.8 percentage points, and 3.2  percentage points respectively when assigned to an instructor of similar minority type.

These effects represent roughly  half of the total gaps in classroom outcomes between white and underrepresented minority students. The benefits are largest among black students being taught by black instructors. The class dropout rate relative to whites is 6 percentage points lower for black students when taught by a black  instructor.

So, in theory, according to these results, we could wipe out a sizeable portion of the minority student achievement gap by hiring more minority instructors. Easier said than done of course. And, as the authors point out, any policy with that explicit aim would likely have negative consequences, since students appear to react positively when matched to instructors of a similar race, but negatively when not.


Eric M. Jones.

First of all I totally agree...BUT:

How does one remain fair whilst being aware of all the trappings of ingrained cultural values and histories?-- Viz.:

1) You have two sushi chefs: One black Caribbean woman from Jamaica and, and one chubby Japanese-looking guy from San Francisco?

2) You have two Mercedes mechanics: One named Franz who has a vaguely Austrian accent, and Jose from South of the Border.

3) You choose from two tax accountants: One Jewish Brooklynite and one person from Nashville, Tennessee.

4) And don't get me started on Jazz ensembles. I knew four white Jewish doctors who played at nightspots on weekends. Puleeeeeze............no..........

Jeff

I think you're wrong. Take Texas as an example.The percentage of Black teachers and Black students is about equal. Look at page three of this report: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/research/pdfs/prr4.pdf .

Asian students outperform everyone, and Asian teachers are greatly underrepresented.

The study does not control for teacher grade inflation and cheating. Remember the Atlanta cheating scandal? Underperforming minority schools were caught cheating to pass more Black students. Maybe the study's minority students did better because their same-race instructors graded them easier than other races. Maybe those teachers even cheated for them.

In instructional learning without a teacher, as in some online courses, we still find that Blacks achieve at a much lower level.

Mike B

How do we know that these students are actually completing the coursework to an objective standard and not being allowed to slide through by a sympathetic instructor of the same ethnic group? As I am sure non-minority instructors have less empathy for the circumstances of minority students, minority instructors could have an over abundance of empathy. Someone should arrange an experiment that can compensate for these biases and determines if students are actually learning more.

tiffany

"How do we know that these students are actually completing the coursework to an objective standard and not being allowed to slide through by a sympathetic instructor of the same ethnic group?"

How do we know that the same isn't already happening with white students of white teachers?

Roger S

Straight solution is segregation. By ensuring a black teacher's class is 100% black, and white teacher has a 100% white class, every teacher's race is perfectly aligned with all their students.

This will not end well.

Chad

So what do we do with a class made up of White, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and other students? Sure, we can hire more minority teachers, but are we going to segregate our classes?

Do white students learn better from white teachers? If so, then we would have a net negative effect if we hired a minority teacher for a class that is majority white.

This is an interesting result, but I think the answer is much more complex than just "hire minority teachers".

@DWDevelopments

I too agree with the articles point of view, and would like to add this for consideration: It may well be that the race factors in by cultural alignments and understandings, but it could also be that minority teachers maybe working harder because they are minority teachers. We all know that race is an issue still today and until it is a complete non-issue minorities have to work harder than their colleagues. It may be their hard work that may be closing the gap along with culture and racial alignments. As for keeping male teachers in the classroom, minority or otherwise, pay scales have to change. Teaching is the BEST career you can ever have, if you have the patience and dedication, but it is not a career that will provide for a household with wife and 2.3 kids and the family dog, it is just not going to happen. I have taught for 11yrs and with the economy and layoffs, I am now moving to self-employment (Thanks Dan Miller!) What most people may or may not know is the business side of teaching is really contract work. Each and every year you teach is just that a 1 year gig, you have no more of a guarantee than that of 1 yr and when you start to earn the education equivalent of big bucks it does not matter if you are Teacher of the Year your salary is a liability. And it is not about what you can do for the kids. Education is moving away from its primary focus: The Kids. It is becoming or has become more business like than anything with states removing mandatory ratios (fire marshal should be checking into that one), letting go of experience in favor of smaller salaries, and then making sure that good money follows bad decisions (most superintendents contracts have pay me to leave clauses). I'll end with this, I will be back in education after I take care of myself first, flight attendant motto: "Place the oxygen mask on yourself first, then secure the children"

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Jeff

"We all know that race is an issue still today and until it is a complete non-issue minorities have to work harder than their colleagues."

Not really. Affirmative action and EEOC laws make it much more risky to fire minority employees. the government effectively mandates a quota for minority employees, giving them a guaranteed job pool. This creates incentives to work less not more.

Tony

How many asian students have never had an asian teacher? I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by dozens of the best teachers in my childhood - which meant I had a lot of Russian and Jewish teachers across a multitude of disciplines. All else equal, are they more effective? Sure, but this is not a scalable solution

Christopher Browen

Unfortunately, that final paragraph points to an issue that would stir rather more controversy...

In order to get the "positive reaction" of matching students to instructors of a similar race, what needs to get implemented is... Institutionalized segregation. Which is something that people have been struggling to try to destroy for 40-odd years.

Somehow I don't see a happy outcome here.

Ernest

I can definitely see the author's point, one of the professors I'm closest to is a fellow black male. But it seems to confusing a few different issues. Student achievement in college is part of the wider educational discrepancies, but those in K-12 are likely more important as success begets success and failure more failure. Confusing the portion of students that are college age and actually in college muddles the point. Hopefully someone is doing similar research on primary education so we can close the achievement gap where it matters most.

Sam

Yes , minority teachers are required to fill gap between non-minority and minority students. Only 9.6% of full-time instructional faculty at U.S. colleges are black, Latino or Native American. And yet, these groups make up a third of the college-age population.
Or we have to move to online teachers such as http://www.forecastfortomorrow.com/.

Joshua Northey

Look up "socio-economics" on wikipedia. Faculty come from very well off segments of the population. "blacks, latinos, and native americans" generally do not.

JP

I always did better when the teacher was attractive. So maybe we should work on hiring more attractive teachers and then everyone can do better....

QCIC

"We find that the performance gap in terms of class dropout and pass rates between white and minority students falls by roughly half when taught by a minority instructor. "

Total performance is at least as important as performance gap if not more so, and since presumably the alternative being proposed is to move away from "merit" based hiring and towards "affirmative action", one can only assume total performance would decrease.

WARNING ANECDOTE:

I grew up a liberal and in my teens and college years a huge fan of affirmative action. My past 10 years of work experience has caused me to drastically re-evaluate that position.

I constantly deal with mid-level staff (career civil servants) at several federal government agencies. These are people in salaried positions making $50,000-$150,000/year. A healthly chunk of them are terrible at their jobs.

What is really horrifying to a liberal like myself...

The competence of the staff people I deal with is inversely correlated with how "minority" they are.
White males/Asians: Nearly universally competent.
White females/Latinos: Hit or miss.
African Americans: Frequently borderline negligent.

Granted we are only talking about a few dozen people here spread across 3 agencies, so this isn't a huge sample and could be all random chance.

But it is enough people that it doesn't seem likely it is random chance. I know their is equal opportunity bias in federal HR policies. I have heard some of the African Americans joke "that they could never lose their job" at conferences.

Just to be clear a few of the African American employees are great, and one of the White Male employees is merely average. But when I meet a new contact I can pretty reliably predict that I will need to do a thorough job and follow all the rules to a T if they are a white male, and that pretty much any random slipshod garbage will pass muster if they are African American. It is sad.

Just an anecdote, but it has caused me to re-evaluate affirmative action in any form.

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Steve

I have worked in DC with Federal Employees and can vouch for much of what you are saying. The reality (and this is sad) is that people working in the Federal employment pool are also working from a more "entitled" disposition. I cannot count the number of people in and around DC who talked about landing a full time Fed job like they were playing the lottery!

So I would say that whether you are talking about the gov mandating entitlement programs or employment curves or affirmative action or over simplifying positive correlations, it is one thing to imply things could be better with a stronger metric and another thing entirely when you are forced to achieve the metric goal.

James

We can (or could 20 years or so ago*) find an instructive counter-example in almost any university engineering or hard science classroom, where the instructor was virtually always a white male, and half or more of the class were international students, mostly from Asia & India.

*Of course these days many of the instructors are now the former international students.

Ken

The author accidentally wrote minority when he meant black, Latino and native American. Or really, black and Latino (since Native American is not used consistently.)

As a non black, Latino or native American minority, I am always offended when people talk about minority as if the term automatically excludes Asians, South Asians, Jews, etc. It doesn't. And it's misuse legitimizes the discrimination.

This is a serious issue of perpetuating discrimination itself. The perpetuation of the myth that some minorities aren't discriminated against and others are. Manner of discrimination is varied, perhaps by race, but not absent.

Mike

I'm not sure what to make of this. If the suggestion were that underperforming white students should not be taught by black teachers, that would be branded racist, and rightfully so. Why should the opposite be OK?

Note that this is not a general phenomenon: racial minorities in general don't need teachers of their own race, it is specific minorities. Perhaps we should get to the root of the problem and try to understand why black, Latino, and Native American kids have trouble learning from white teachers. I suspect that it is prejudice and negative stereotypes about white teachers, and those prejudices are going to hinder students later on anyway. Maybe catering to these prejudices is a short term solution and in a few generations the problem will just go away on its own. But there is also a possibility that we are feeding into an obsession with divisiveness and racial stereotyping that is going to be good for noone.

I think this issue is more complex than some minorities learn better from minority teachers, therefore we should just have them taught by minority teachers.

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Mike

“We all know that race is an issue still today and until it is a complete non-issue minorities have to work harder than their colleagues.”

That's your assumption; where is the evidence that "minorities" are disadvantaged? What minorities anyway? And wher is the evidence that it is prejudice rather than someone's attitude or behavior that places them at a disadvantage? Merely looking different or speaking differently doesn't seem to cause people to put someone at a disadvantage because there are many minorities that are doing well.

Furthermore, how is that different from other factors? I'm an immigrant; I had to work extremely hard to stay in the country, I had very limited job opportunities, was eligible for few scholarships, needed to learn the language, integrate into a new culture, etc. And I'm also a "minority", I just happen to have white skin color and no lobby.

We have full legal equality, we have anti-discrimination laws, and we have affirmative action. Maybe specific minorities still have problems, but at some point, I don't see what government can do to help. And more and more social engineering may be exacerbating the problem rather than helping.

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