Study: Having a Black Teacher Can Help Keep Black Kids in School

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Low-income black students who have at least one black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school and consider attending college, according to a new working paper published by the Institute of Labor Economics.

Being assigned to a classroom led by a black teacher in in third, fourth, or fifth grade reduced a student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent, the study found.

And the positive effects were even greater among low-income black boys, whose likelihood of dropping out fell by 39 percent.

“We’re seeing spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the more frustrating persistent gaps in educational attainment—that of low-income black boys,” researcher Nicholas Papageorge told The Hub, a news service operated by Johns Hopkins University (MD). “It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.”

The study, which followed roughly 100,000 black students from North Carolina, found that students’ college aspirations were also positively influenced.

Overall, black students who received instruction from a black teacher in elementary school were 18 percent more likely to express interest in attending college, with low-income black boys 29 percent more likely than their peers to say they were interested in continuing their education after high school.

How do researchers account for the powerful effects of having just one same-race teacher?

“We think that students, especially poor black boys, might not identify with higher levels of education; they might not see people with high levels of education that look like them,” Papageorge told Education Week. “If that’s the case, they might not be making investments in their own education … because they just [don’t] identify with being an educated professional.”

Learn more about the study, and read one teacher’s take on its findings.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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