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April 1, 2019
Vol. 76
No. 7

Research Alert / The Impact of Teacher Diversity

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Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research and the IZA Institute of Labor Economics shows that, for black K–12 students, having even a single black teacher in elementary school can make a tremendous difference—improving a student's trajectory far beyond the elementary years. Being taught by a black educator is so salient that it can affect whether or not a student of color not only finishes high school, but enrolls in college, according to data analyses.
The results—from two related studies of academic indicators for students in North Carolina and Tennessee—indicate that black students who had at least one black teacher in elementary school were 7 percent more likely to graduate high school and 13 percent more likely to enroll in college than peers who didn't have a black teacher in grade school. Researchers found similar patterns about the power of having a same-race teacher when looking at long-term college enrollment data for black students.
These data are especially striking because the effects of learning from a black teacher persisted 10-plus years after students had that experience. One of the studies, looking at 100,000 North Carolina students, found that having a black teacher in 4th or 5th grade reduced low-income black males' chances of dropping out of high school by 39 percent. Black youth of both genders who'd had had a black teacher were also more committed to pursuing higher education. The second study found that African American students in Tennessee who'd had a black teacher in grades K–3 were more likely than those who hadn't to take a college entrance exam, among other indicators of college interest.
The reports, both titled "The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers," are available at IZA Institute of Labor Economics and NBER.

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