New York University Scholar Examines Teacher Racial Bias and Academic Expectations

A study by Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, an assistant professor of international education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, finds that public school English and mathematics teachers tend to underestimate the academic abilities of African Americans and other students of color and this tends to impact their grades.

Dr. Cherng examined survey data from 10,000 high school sophomores and their teachers. He found that both math and English teachers were more likely to perceive their class as too difficult for students of color compared to White students, even after controlling for standardized test scores, homework completion, and a host of other factors. The greatest gap was found for Black students; more than twice the percentage of math and English teachers reported that their class is too difficult, compared to White students.

Dr. Cherng said “based on my analysis, teachers underestimating their students’ abilities actually causes students to have lower academic expectations of themselves, meaning that they expected they would complete less school. This was particularly harmful among Black students.”

The full study, “If They Think I Can: Teacher Bias and Youth of Color Expectations and Achievement,” was published on the website of the journal Social Science Research. it may be accessed here.

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