Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Students of All Races Prefer Black, Latino Teachers, Study Finds

Black and Latino teachers may be minorities in the U.S. educator workforce, but a new study finds they also may be the most effective — at least according to their students. 

In a survey of middle schoolers and high school freshman from around the country looking at nearly 1,700 teachers, New York University researchers found that students of all races rate teachers of color more favorably than white teachers. The survey included questions about the teachers’ abilities to motivate students to achieve high academic standards, the support they offer their students, the way they manage behavior in their classrooms and the effectiveness of their teaching strategies. 

Students didn’t necessarily give higher ratings to teachers of their own race or ethnicity. For example, Asian students rated black teachers higher than black students did. Overall, students, including white respondents, had significantly more favorable perceptions of Latino teachers when compared with white teachers across all categories surveyed.

Lead researcher on the study Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng was surprised by the results, according to The Huffington Post. He had expected students to rate white teachers higher than minority teachers because they were accustomed to seeing whites in positions of authority, as was the case at a middle school in San Francisco, where he previously taught. 

But he had some theories as to the study’s findings. 

“If you’re a black teacher, you understand you’re not in the mainstream and you know how to navigate the world essentially embodying an identity that is sometimes highly stigmatized,” Cherng said. In middle school, he told The Huffington Post, “kids are struggling with their own identities and how to come to terms with their own difference and development. I think these middle school teachers can use their own identities and experience to bridge that relationship with all types of students.”

This study and a growing body of research showing the benefits of student-teacher racial and ethnic match make a compelling case for the importance of teacher diversity in U.S. schools, where more than 80 percent of teachers are white.

Motoko Rich of The New York Times shared these statistics last year:

In some school districts, the disparities are striking. In Boston, for example, there is just one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Latino students, and one black teacher for every 22 African-American students. The ratio of white teachers to white students: one to fewer than three.

In New York City, where more than 85 percent of the students are racial minorities, 60 percent of the teachers are white. In Washington, black teachers represent close to half of all teachers — in a district where two-thirds of the students are black — but the Latino teaching force lags behind the growing Hispanic enrollment.

The NYU study controlled for students’ age, gender, family income and academic performance, as well as teachers’ experience, education, gender, and outside expert ratings of the teachers’ effectiveness based on classroom observations.