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The Suspension Problem: Black Students Work Better with Black Teachers, Study Finds

In 2007, a study conducted by the Fraser Institute found that 91% of parents named teacher dedication as their main reason for choosing to send their children to a private school. But is it possible that this dedication might be relative to the race of the students?

Whether in private school or public school, data from the U.S. Department of Education has found that black students face a disproportionate amount of school-based punishments, like expulsions and suspensions, as compared to children of other races. However, a new study published in Education Next suggests that there’s a simple solution to this problem: hire more black teachers.

This recent study found that black students were significantly less likely to receive detentions, suspensions, or expulsions when they are taught by black educators. In fact, the research shows that when black boys were taught by black female teachers instead of white female teachers, the rate of exclusionary discipline they experienced dropped from 16% to 14%. The percentage fell even further when black boys were taught by black male educators. Similarly, black girls were less likely to receive detention or be suspended or expelled when taught by black female teachers.

Interestingly, the racial makeup of the teacher had no significant impact on the punishment that white children received. Researchers say this suggests children are less likely to face disproportionate discipline when they are taught by educators who look like them.

The trend may also suggest that black educators may use different teaching methods or are better able to deal with certain behaviors in the classroom. Alternately, black students may just act differently when being taught by black teachers. Or it might highlight a racial bias that white teachers theoretically possess.

Study co-author Constance Lindsay adds that “even though the results are pretty small, they’re consistent. We cut data a few different ways and it’s consistent with different types of school, whether suburban or urban.”

Ultimately, the scope of unfair disciplinary action extends far beyond the reaches of the classroom. Past research has showed that these kinds of disciplinary trends can directly impact students in the real world. It can help to set them on a school-to-prison path — a path that stands to hurt people of color much more than white individuals.

Research suggests that simply making an effort to hire more black teachers would have a positive effect on the student body as a whole. Despite the fact that the majority of American students are now minorities, the makeup of teachers is overwhelmingly white. Teachers of color also have higher turnover rates than white teachers, and they often work in schools that are historically more difficult to staff given their lack of resources.

But while raising salaries to attract more black teachers isn’t a reality for many schools, the concept of improving working conditions is much more feasible. Above all, it’s important for students to feel like they are being represented. Though the educational system is way behind in terms of representation, researchers are hopeful that these findings will inspire school administrations to take a hard look at their student body and take steps to choose their staff accordingly.

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