Black male students are more likely to graduate high school if they have at least one African-American teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade, a new study found.
Using data from North Carolina, researchers found that low-income black male students’ chances of dropping out declined 39 percent and their interest in going to college increased 29 percent when they had at least one black teacher in the later elementary school years.
Studies have shown that black students do better on tests when they have black teachers, so it was interesting to see that teacher assignments have lasting effects, said Nicholas W. Papageorge, an assistant professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and one of the study’s authors.
Papageorge said the findings are encouraging because it presents a workable way to address the persistent problem of lagging graduation rates of black males. Getting more students to graduate wouldn’t require districts to hire lots of black teachers, he said. Schools could use the existing workforce, he said, while making sure that black students get at least one black teacher.
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“We can reassign students today with a careful look at rosters and use the black teachers we have, and maybe get something that’s working now,” he said.
After looking at North Carolina data, researchers looked at Tennessee student information and affirmed their findings.
IZA Institute of Labor Economic published the findings.
The next step is to find out why having a black teacher makes a difference, Papageorge said. Research has found that black teachers have higher expectations for black students. That may result in teachers spending more time and effort on them, and students becoming more engaged in school. Or, it may be that students benefit from seeing role models, Papageorge said.
James Ford, program director at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings. “I think we understand the value of being affirmed,” he said. “Not everything is reading, writing and arithmetic.”
The forum, an education think-tank, wants the state to consider ways to increase teacher diversity.
About 13 percent of the state’s elementary school teachers are black.