How important is it to have a role model?
A new working paper puts some numbers to that question.
Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys' probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, the study found.
And by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls, who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.
The study is big. The authors, Seth Gershenson and Constance A. Lindsay of American University, Cassandra M.D. Hart of U.C. Davis and Nicholas Papageorge at Johns Hopkins, looked at long-term records for more than 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina.
Then the researchers checked their conclusions by looking at students in a second state, Tennessee, who were randomly assigned to certain classes.
There they found that not only did the black students assigned to black teachers graduate high school at higher rates, they also were more likely to take a college entrance exam. "The results line up strikingly well," says Papageorge.
This paper is another piece of social science evidence reinforcing the case for having more teachers of color and for training teachers to be more culturally responsive. We've reported on instances of implicit bias by white teachers, even toward preschool students, that black students are more often recommended for gifted programs by teachers of color and that students of all races prefer teachers of color.
And this isn't news to many African-American families who already feel strongly that their children need role models in their education. Khalilah Harris has experienced the issue both as a policymaker and as a mother of three daughters. She was the Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans under the Obama administration. She recently transferred her two older daughters, 12 and 14, to a progressive private school to expose them to more diverse teachers and curriculum.