Why Classroom Diversity and Teacher Ethnicity Matter
Studies have shown that black and Latinx children benefit from learning from a teacher of the same race or ethnicity. Educational psychology Ph.D. student Damira Rasheed (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and a team of researchers wanted to further understand that dynamic, especially the way in which diverse classrooms might affect the outcome. They dove deeper into the data in an article published in the journal Child Development.
The researchers analyzed three main sources of information: teacher self-reports, teacher assessments of academic performance and behavior, and student records provided by the New York City Department of Education.
Their findings supported prior research that showed race and ethnicity matching between teacher and student leads to better academic outcomes, including “higher child engagement in learning, motivation, social skills, and fewer absences.”
But those results didn’t hold when minority students were paired with a nonwhite teacher from another race or ethnicity. For example, Latinx teachers tended to rate black students lower than Latinx students on their academic accomplishments.
Teacher-student relationships also didn’t necessarily hinge on race. Although white teachers reported feeling closer to white students, black teachers reported experiencing more conflict with black students. Racial categories, the authors wrote, “are broad brush strokes that may not get at nuanced cultural differences in a fast growing multicultural society.”
But the study also found that a diverse student body “buffered the negative influence” of racial or ethnic mismatch between teachers and children in some cases. In low-diversity classrooms, a “teacher–child mismatch was related to lower engagement, motivation, social skills, math and reading scores … but not in high‐diversity classrooms.” There were some negative effects as well, though: Classroom diversity was also associated with teacher–child conflict and absences.
The researchers said their results underscore the importance of increasing diversity both in classrooms and in teacher recruitment and retention policies.