Students of all races and ethnicities — even white students — favor teachers of color over white teachers, a study has found. Steinhardt assistant professors Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter F. Halpin found this through a secondary analysis, in which they analyzed students’ teacher racial preferences of over 50,000 sixth to ninth grade students.
The report analyzed data from a study conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called Measures of Effective Teaching. This study, conducted from 2009-2011, had students rate their teachers’ effectiveness by using “Seven Cs” that are linked to improved academic performance on standardized tests: challenge, classroom management, care, confer, captivate, clarify and consolidate.
Cherng said that he was drawn to this topic after his first day of teaching, when a student innocently looked at him and asked if he spoke English.
“I said, ‘I do, but luckily for you, I teach you algebra,’ and she started laughing and the other students started laughing,” Cherng said. “She was like, ‘Oh my God, was that racist?’ and I’m like, okay that’s a really strong term — a really broad term.”
So Cherng inquired why she asked him that question, and she said her curiosity stemmed from his Asian features — a judgement based on race.
“As a middle school teacher I really cared about what my students thought,” Cherng said. “But I think in the research realm, we don’t really focus on that very much.”
After analyzing already-existing data on 1,680 teachers, Cherng was surprised to find a generally more positive perception of Latino and black teachers compared to white teachers — something that contradicted his original hypothesis.
Halpin said that while the preference for teachers of color was only marginally higher than students’ preferences for white teachers, this slight inclination held consistently across students of all demographics and school subjects.
“The most striking part of the study is that the effect shows up descriptively — and persists — if you control for various other features that might explain the discrepancies,” Halpin said. “The fact that they’re there and they’re systematically and consistently there is problematic.”
The study found mixed evidence that students taught by a teacher of the same race have a more favorable view of their teacher. While black students largely favored black teachers, Latino students didn’t exhibit the same preference for Latino teachers.
Cross-culturally, Asian students evaluated black teachers particularly favorably, but the data for Asian teachers was discarded for privacy reasons due to small sample size.
In light of this new research, Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities and Diversity Ulrich Baer said that this study brings more urgency to increasing faculty diversity.
“It seems strange to me that we need to have so many data points and arguments to do this,” said Baer. “That’s why the study is useful. This is the argument I can use institutionally.”
He said that only 75 percent of faculty self-report their race, but NYU statistics say that 8.3 percent of all faculty at NYU is Latino and 10.4 percent is black. With these numbers, Baer said that as the faculty becomes more diverse, the quality of education increases, as seen through Tisch, when the faculty increased the percentage of its people of color from two to 27 percent in the last 20 years.
“People don’t get moved when I say it’s the right thing to do morally,” said Baer. “People have to think it’s an overall benefit to them and their research. If they don’t see it that way, they won’t do it.”
Email Sayer Devlin at [email protected]