Students of all races prefer minority teachers over white teachers.
So says a New York University study published this month, drawing on the responses of 157,000 students in middle schools and high schools in urban areas nationwide.
“On almost every single measure all students liked Latino and black teachers better than white,” the paper’s co-lead researcher, NYU sociologist Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, told Metro.
The findings from the study, "The Importance of Minority Teachers: Student Perceptions of Minority Versus White Teachers," published in the journal Educational Researcher on Oct. 5, underscore the importance of minority teacher recruitment and retention, the researchers said.
Previous research indicated that minority students fare better with minority teachers; yet those studies were mainly from the teacher perspective and “outcome focused,” based on test scores and graduation rates, not student opinions.
“It goes beyond race-matching,” as the results (drawn from data from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's study called the Measure of Effective Teaching) show that Asian American students have a stronger preference for black teachers than even black students, Cherng said.
The reason might have something to do with an approach that recognizes the struggles of students of a certain age, from diverse backgrounds, Cherng posited. Sometimes students simply perceive the minority teacher as being more approachable.
“In middle school, bullying is at an all time high, every kid across identities is forming an identity,” said Cherng. “I’ve never met a teacher of color who doesn’t have a story of feeling out of place and for that the teachers have sincere understanding for the adolescent experience.”
Haley Greco, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, noticed this was true for a black math teacher. The class loved him, especially the Asian students, she said.
“He understood the perils of being a teenager, Greco said. ”He treated us like adults, wasn’t condescending like a lot of teachers, like ‘teenagers are so lazy’ but really wanted us to learn and treated us above our age.”
Reyna Steinberg, a pre-K teacher at Camden Street Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey, where almost the entire student body comes from poor urban backgrounds, recognizes pronounced differences in the teacher-student approach between her and her colleagues of color.
“The minority teachers deal with students in a different way. Maybe there is more casual language. If they have the similar backgrounds they can relate from a different level,” Steinberg said. “They do things that I just cant, the kids just wouldn’t take it the same way. The kids can read when you are being genuine and when you are putting up a front.”
In the past ten years, education reform has placed more attention on recruiting minority teachers in a sweeping attempt to combat institutional racism and provide more comfortable learning environments for minority students. In New York City, where 85 percent students are minorities and only 40 percent of teachers are minorities, there is a campaign to specifically recruit male minority teachers. It’s an effort that Cherng thinks is admirable on the one hand, but potentially counter-productive.
“It puts an extra burden on the minority teachers, setting expectations unreasonably high,” said Cherng.
The policy effort, he said, should be to train teachers to adopt the approaches minority teachers take to their classrooms, something more useful to improving education that just hiring based on race.