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Students like teachers of color more than white teachers, study suggests

Students have several reasons for choosing who might be their favorite teacher, from liking the subject they teach to appreciating the way they run their classrooms. But a new study suggests another factor might play a role in the instructors they like more: their race.

Students prefer teachers of color to white teachers, regardless of their own race, according to a new study published Wednesday in Educational Researcher. The study suggests that minority teachers might be able to use their own experiences to connect with students in the classroom, even if the subject itself isn’t directly connected, New York University sociologist Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng told NPR.

Cherng, who co-wrote the paper with Peter Halpin, used data from the Measure of Effective Teaching study, which provided survey answers from 1,700 students from the sixth through ninth grades. The questions on the survey addressed their teachers’ competence in seven categories, including the ability to challenge students, support them and manage them.

According to the study, all students indicated they more positively perceived Latino teachers and black teachers to white teachers — even when controlling for outside factors like experience and expert assessments.

The most positive correlation Cherng found was between Asian-American students and black teachers — a finding that contradicted Cherng’s own experience teaching math before he pursued sociology, he told NPR.

According to the National Educational Association, more than 80 percent of teachers in American classrooms are white and more than a third of American schools have no teachers of color. And Cherng assumed the results would favor white teachers because of “student awareness of the racial hierarchy,” he told NPR.

Instead, the results were “surprising,” he said.

Previous studies have suggested teachers might exercise an implicit bias for white students as early as in preschool. Cherng’s study, he said, suggests racial dynamics in the classroom might be more complicated.

“We’re not done” studying this, Cherng told NPR.

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