Does Teacher Diversity Matter in Student Learning?
Research shows that students, especially boys, benefit when teachers share their race or gender. Yet most teachers are white women.
As students have returned to school, they have been greeted by teachers who, more likely than not, are white women. That means many students will be continuing to see teachers who are a different gender than they are, and a different skin color.
Does it matter? Yes, according to a significant body of research: Students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.
The homogeneity of teachers is probably one of the contributors, the research suggests, to the stubborn gender and race gaps in student achievement: Over all, girls outperform boys, and white students outperform those who are black and Hispanic.
The effect is stronger on boys. Research has found that boys, and particularly black boys, are more affected than girls by disadvantages, like poverty and racism, and by positive influences, like high-quality schools and role models. Yet they are least likely to have had a teacher that looks like them.
“We find that the effect is really driven by boys,” said Seth Gershenson, an economist studying education policy at American University. “In the elementary school setting, for black children and especially disadvantaged black children, the effect of having even just one black teacher is fairly big and robust and a real thing.”
When black children had a black teacher between third and fifth grades, boys were significantly less likely to later drop out of high school, and both boys and girls were more likely to attend college, Mr. Gershenson and his colleagues found in a large study last year. The effect was strongest for children from low-income families. The study included 106,000 students who entered third grade in North Carolina from 2001 to 2005, and it followed them through high school. There was no effect on white children when they had a black teacher.